St Helens maintained their late-season resurgence with a 23-4 victory over Wigan in a fiercely-contested derby in front of a Super League season’s-best crowd of 20,049 at the DW Stadium.
All but seven of the 27 points came in the first half when Keiron Cunningham’s men took their chances to establish a 16-4 lead before demonstrating magnificent defence to keep their hosts scoreless for 70 minutes.
Both teams finished with 12 men after Wigan’s former New Zealand international Frank Paul Nuuausala, on his home debut, and St Helens forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook were sin-binned for their part in an ugly free-for-all which could see further repercussions.
A fifth successive win enables Saints to draw level on points with fourth-placed Catalans Dragons while Wigan will drop to third going into the Super 8s if Warrington beat Huddersfield on Saturday.
Wigan had John Bateman back from his two-month exile to make his 100th Super League appearance and also welcomed captain Sean O’Loughlin back in the side but they were well below their best as they suffered back-to-back defeats for the second time this season.
Saints were indebted to a superb performance from Canberra-bound stand-off Jordan Turner, who made his first impact in the opening minutes, carving out an opening for centre Matty Fleming, and when he was tackled high by Sam Tomkins, Mark Percival kicked the resultant penalty to open the scoring.
With George Williams probing and prompting, Wigan quickly began to cause problems for the visitors’ defence and, after front rowers Ryan Sutton and Ben Flower had been stopped short of the line, winger Lewis Tierney put them in front by diving fearlessly onto Williams’ grubber kick to the corner.
Matty Smith was unable to add the conversion and St Helens drew level with another penalty from Percival following a dangerous tackle by Wigan second rower Willie Isa before hitting their hosts with two tries in the last eight minutes of the first half.
Percival cut through for the first after full-back Jonny Lomax pounced on a loose ball while substitute Morgan Knowles took full advantage of a defensive howler from Tomkins, who completely missed the ball in trying to clean up Turner’s grubber kick.
Percival kicked both conversions to put his side into a 16-4 half-time lead which proved enough of a cushion.
Saints had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their new-found defensive mettle as Wigan piled on the pressure at the start of the second half, aided by three successive penalties.
Tomkins, who had an unhappy time in defence, looked to have pulled a try back after 48 minutes when he squeezed over the line but video referee Joe Cobb ruled he failed to ground the ball and with it went Wigan’s last chance to salvage the game.
The Warriors had further chances, particularly through Sam Powell and Tierney, but paid the price for a lack of composure and the visitors continued to scramble superbly to keep their line intact.
Tempers which simmered throughout finally erupted into an ugly free-for-all which saw Nuuausala and McCarthy-Scarsbrook shown yellow cards and Saints ended the match on a high when hooker James Roby took Luke Walsh’s pass to score his side’s third try, with Percival kicking his fifth goal from as many attempts.