In a surprise selection, James Roby was dropped to the bench by Justin Holbrook as St Helens and Warrington Wolves provided the entertainment on Thursday night in the first Super League 2018 semi-final, it what would be a thrilling game for fans of rugby league.
Jonny Lomax made the first error of the game as he dropped the ball inside his own half. This allowed Warrington to attack but they fifth tackle play didn’t come to anything. However, not all things were good for Saints as Tommy Makinson seemed to pick up a knock.
Another early error from Saints, through Mark Percival meant that the Wolves had a scrum 30 metres out. Once again though, the home side closed Warrington down.
More errors from Saints allowed Warrington to march up the field and were in control inside the first 10 minutes. This latest error lead to another penalty which Warrington took full advantage of to take an early 2-0 lead from the boot of Tyrone Roberts.
Ben Barba and Lomax made in-roads into the Wolves defence as Saints won a penalty and Danny Richardson levelled the scores after 14 minutes.
A midfield battle ensued over the next 10 minutes as both sides looked to gain momentum. Warrington seemed to do this as they forced a goal line drop out. However Roby had now entered the fray after Dominic Peyroux left the field injured.
A huge run from Luke Thompson set the platform for Saints to attack but a poor end to the set allowed Stefan Ratchford to break and take tackle one on the half way line.
A massive tackle from Regan Grace set the tone for the next couple of minutes and Jack Hughes tackled Makinson high. However, it was Bryson Goodwin who was penalised by the referee.
Neither side were backing down with each carry getting harder and faster, especially from Saints. However, Richardson was caught on the last after their first fifth tackle power play didn’t work out.
Makinson was the next player was to break through the Warrington line and despite a messy play the ball from the winger, Saints managed to get near the try-line and win a repeat set after a Daryl Clark knock on.
Saints were in control of the game as the half an hour mark ticked by, although they didn’t manage to gain an advantage on the scoreboard after good defence by Joe Philbin.
Stefan Ratchford came to Warringtons rescue once more just minutes later as he picked up a low Ben Barba kick to keep the scores at 2-2.
Warrington managed to have a point scoring chance of their own as Stefan Ratchford attempted a drop goal which clipped the outside of the upright. Richardson then took a page out of Ratchford’s book but did manage to convert his attempt as Saints took as narrow one-point lead as half-time approached.
Warrington did nearly score on the hooter as a Roberts 40-20 set them up to attack but Charnley knocked on.
Half-Time: St Helens 3-2 Warrington Wolves
Stefan Ratchford was the first to make an error in the second half as Saints managed to bounce the ball out of the back of the in goal and win a goal line drop out.
The resulting set of six ended in the first try of the night to Saints and Danny Richardson’s grubber kick bounced awkwardly over the top of Ratchford and Kevin Brown and it was Luke Douglas was the quickest to react for the home side as they stretched their lead after TMO confirmation. Richardson converted from in front of the posts.
Warrington hit straight back within seconds though, as Jack Hughes managed to break on the outside of Mark Percival and outpace Ben Barba to the corner to narrow the gap to three. Roberts pulled his conversion attempt wide though.
Saints were still in control though as Jonny Lomax was taken out off of the ball and Holbrook instructed his side to go for the extra two points. Richardson duly obliged as the lead stretched to five points.
Warrington were forced to concede another goal line drop out just moments later as Barba’s kick was touched down by Goodwin.
An ambitious second tackle kick from Roberts over the back line of Saints did pay off for Saints as they managed to secure a goal line drop out. However, as Jonny Lomax was attempting to escape his own in goal, the half back picked up a dislocated finger and was in some visible discomfort on the field.
Lomax was tough though as he got his fingers wrapped up and took some painkillers in order to carry on.
Warrington did take full advantage of their goal line drop out though as the ball was spread wide to Tom Lineham who slid underneath Ben Barbas attempted tackle to bring Warrington to within one point. Roberts conversion flew straight between the posts as the Wolves took a slender lead with just over 20 minutes to go.
The Wolves were on the up now after doing extremely well to stop Jonny Lomax from scoring. However, Ben Murdoch-Masila was tackled late by Percival but Robert Hicks deemed it to be okay as he did with Ratchford potentially being tackled without the ball in the dame play as Saints escaped once more.
Saints were not going to give up easy though, as Danny Richardson was tackled off the ball by Joe Philbin and they attempted to kick for goal from the the right hand touch line. Richardson couldn’t quite convert though but Saints got the ball back from a 20 metre restart.
The scores were level just a minute later though as Richardson received a pass from Jonny Lomax and the half-back slotted the ball straight between the posts.
Saints then won a penalty straight from kick-off as Stefan Ratchford made yet another error as his kick went straight over the deal ball line. Saints chose to run the ball though and Richardson struck his third drop goal of the night. This one wasn’t as smooth as he sliced the ball, which then bounced over off of the crossbar as Saints took a one point lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Warrington were looking slightly desperate going into the end of the game as Ben Westwood struck Matty Lees with a high shot and Saints pushed into the Wolves half once more.
Warrington were not finished though as they decided to throw the ball out wide on tackle four and Tom Lineham powered through two St Helens defenders, stepped inside another and scored for the Wolves who took the lead once more. Roberts added the extras as Saints now needed to score a converted try with just five minutes remaining.
Despite winning the restart back, Saints couldn’t get over the line as the fifth tackle kick bounced out off Percival.
Saints then had to go 95 metres after a solid Warrington attacking set, but a poor fifth tackle from the home side left them with not much time left.
With 20 seconds remaining, Saints had a scrum inside their own half and managed to win a penalty. The last throw of the dice came from 40 metres out and the League Leaders could not do enough to reach Old Trafford.
That was an absolutely classic of a semi-final and in the end it was the Warrington Wolves who earned their shot for silverware next weekend.
Full-Time: St Helens 13-18 Warrington Wolves
Sky Man of the Match: Luke Thompson – The Saints prop was thoroughly deserved of his man of the match award as he was a battering ram for the Saints all game long. He will be disappointed to end the season this way but he shouldn’t be too disheartened with his and his teams performance tonight.
My Man of the Match: Tom Lineham – The Warrington winger did exactly what he needed to do as a winger and scored two precious tries. All the focus was on the forward packs before the game but Lineham made sure he grabbed the headlines on Thursday night.
Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, L.Thompson, Knowles, Lees, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin.
Subs: Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Ashworth
Goals: Richardson (3/3)
Drop-Goals: Richardson (2)
Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, T.King, Charnley, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, B.Thompson, Hughes, Westwood.
Subs: Philbin, Murdoch-Masila, G.King, Patton.
Tries: Hughes, Lineham (2)
Goals: Roberts (3/4)