Opportunities spurned in incident-packed contest

Shaun Magennis unloads the ball whilst being tackled by Jeff Lima
Shaun Magennis unloads the ball whilst being tackled by Jeff Lima

TWO defining second-half moments shaped the destiny of an incident-packed derby showdown at Langtree Park on Good Friday.

Saints, reeling from the early loss of creative half-back Jonny Lomax due to a fractured finger, had initially picked themselves off the floor to come within a whisker of overturning a 12-4 interval deficit and were left with the option of landing a simple penalty to restore parity.

There is no question that at the time they were firmly on the front foot, close to battering the Wigan defence into submission, but opted to run the ball instead of taking the two points on offer and in the knowledge that they would immediately regain possession and possibly turn the screw further.

In hindsight, it was the wrong decision and Saints paid the ultimate price in the subsequent passage of play when Wigan extended their lead to 18-10 following one of a number of contentious rulings by referee Phil Bentham.

Handbags at five paces would be the best way to describe the spat between Josh Perry and his Warriors rival, Gareth Hock, but after the intervention of one of the touch judges, the man in the middle perplexed the vast majority of fans by awarding the visitors a penalty which led to their third try.

How they arrived at the decision to penalise Perry defied logic as neither player had, in my eyes, done anything to deserve any kind of punishment.

It also baffled Saints’ stand-in coach Mike Rush who, when asked for his views on the incident at the post-match press conference, just shook his head. Enough said!

It was an unwarranted kick in the teeth as far as Saints were concerned but, having said that, injury-hit Wigan richly deserved their victory.

They enjoyed large spells of ascendancy, particularly in the first half, and looked stronger than a Saints’ side maybe feeling the after-effects of two gruelling and energy-sapping fixtures against Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves.

The hosts also suffered from not having a genuine playmaker on the bench when Lomax was forced to quit after only 19 minutes.

It restricted their fluidity and inventiveness and with only Lance Hohaia and James Roby able to pull the strings, the absence of a third player with visionary skills stuck out like a sore thumb.

Just to add to their misery, Michael Shenton was also sin-binned in the last 10 minutes and then shortly before the final hooter, Jon Wilkin was helped off suffering from a shoulder problem.

It had, however, started on a brighter note for Saints with Francis Meli grabbing the opening try after 10 minutes.

A thumping tackle by Josh Jones on Sam Tomkins resulted in the Wigan full-back spilling possession and after collecting the loose ball Hohaia sent the Kiwi winger over in the left-hand corner.

But Wigan came storming back and snatched the lead eight minutes later when Darrell Goulding applied the finishing touches to a fine handling move and Josh Charnley landed the goal.

Pat Richards had a try disallowed for foot in touch as Wigan’s pressure, aided by some generous penalties, mounted and it came as no surprise when they moved further ahead after 27 minutes.

The influential Brett Finch created an opening for George Carmont who stretched over the line, leaving Charnley to tag on the extra before a last-gasp tackle by Sia Soliola prevented Warriors substitute Jack Hughes from grounding the ball over the line.

It kept Saints within touching distance and they tested Wigan’s defence to the limited in a spirited fightback early in the second half, reducing the arrears to 12-10 through a Soliola try and a Tom Makinson goal.

But after spurning an opportunity to bring the scores level and then being on the receiving end of that highly debatable penalty decision, things went rapidly downhill for the home side.

Hock’s audacious flick pass sent Sam Tomkins roaring over the whitewash on the hour mark and when Shenton was sent to the sin-bin for pulling Goulding back as he chased his kick ahead, 12-man Saints had reached the point of no return.

Wigan’s claims for a penalty try fell on deaf ears but it didn’t really matter as they cashed-in on their one-man advantage by registering a fourth and fifth try in the last eight minutes.

Finch sent Hock racing in and then Jeff Lima crashed over from a Thomas Leuluai pass, leaving Charnley to take his goal tally to four from five attempts.