ST Helens are just 80 minutes away from a sixth successive Grand Final after outplaying defending champions Wigan in Sunday’s play-off tie at the DW Stadium.
Captain Paul Wellens scored two of his side’s four tries as they claimed their first win in five meetings with the Warriors since their defeat at Old Trafford last October. The result also gave Royce Simmons his first derby success.
Like leaders Warrington, who were 47-0 winners over Huddersfield on Friday, Saints will now have next weekend off while Wigan will be back in action at the DW Stadium next Sunday in the second preliminary semi-final.
St Helens were boosted by the return of experienced overseas trio Tony Puletua, Sia Soliola and Francis Meli but it was young home-grown half-backs Lee Gaskell and Jonny Lomax who set up the impressive victory.
The omens were not good for Wigan when Paul Deacon knocked on from the kick-off and they were indebted to a superb last-ditch tackle from Sam Tomkins to deny Saints winger Tom Makinson at the corner as early as the second minute.
As the visitors pounded the Wigan line, prop James Graham was thrown back from it before full-back Wellens took Gaskell’s pass and cut a fine line to scythe through for the first try.
The influential Jon Wilkin then combined with centre Michael Shenton to get Lomax racing over for a second and Foster kicked both conversions before increasing the lead to 14-0 with a penalty on 28 minutes.
Wigan, who had prop Ben Cross making his comeback from a fractured forearm, suffered a blow when second rower Ryan Hoffman limped off midway through the first half and had Andy Coley put on report for a high tackle on Makinson but they gradually clawed their way back into the game.
Sam Tomkins was held up over the line and also lost control of the ball in Lomax’s tackle in the act of scoring before the Saints defence finally cracked in the last move of the first half, Pat Richards taking skipper Sean O’Loughlin’s pass to cross for his 26th try of the season.
The Ireland international added the goal to make it 14-6 at the break and the gap was down to just two points within three minutes of the re-start.
Finch was again the architect of the try, combining with his half-back partner Paul Deacon to suck in the Saints defence before getting O’Loughlin over with a cute inside pass.
The momentum was clearly with the defending champions by then but Saints quickly re-asserted their authority with two tries in a 10-minute spell.
Wellens grabbed his second after being put through a gap by Lomax, whose break out of his own half had set up the scoring position, and Foster’s fourth goal opened up an eight-point gap.
Wigan thought they had scored again when right winger Josh Charnley got to the line after being only half-stopped by Foster but referees boss Stuart Cummings, pressed into service as video official, ruled he failed to ground the ball.
St Helens made the most of the let-off, working the ball upfield for prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to charge over for their fourth try and Foster kicked his fifth goal.
Joel Tomkins took Thomas Leuluai’s pass to claim a third Wigan try and Richards converted to overtake Colin Tyrer into fourth place in Wigan’s all-time scoring list but Saints had earned a big enough cushion to comfortably withstand their hosts’ late onslaught.