Wigan 12-19 St Helens

St Helens jumped to the top of Super League on Thursday night – if only until Leeds meet Bradford on Friday night – with a pulsating 19-12 win over arch rivals Wigan at the JJB Stadium.

The win stretches Saints’ unbeaten run over the old enemy to five games, with Wigan’s last derby win coming in September 2007.

Vital tries from Matt Gidley and Leon Pryce, and a breathtaking 40-yard drop-goal from young Kyle Eastmond overturned Wigan’s brief 12-6 advantage to take both points.

Within the first two minutes hooker Mark Riddell nearly cut solo through the visitors’ defence but his pass back inside was caught by wingman Ade Gardner.

The home side were much quicker out of the blocks. An uncharacteristic Leon Pryce knock-on was nearly punished, but a trickling grubber kick was narrowly missed and only just fielded by the Saints defence, before the visitors threw the ball straight into touch from the restart.

And it was in-form Shaun Ainscough who put the Cherry and Whites in front after nine minutes. A quick grubber kick from stand-off Thomas Leuluai found the young winger perfectly in the corner, who touched down before Gardner had a chance to intervene. Amos Roberts just pulled his touchline conversion, so the score stayed 4-0.

It was 4-0 for a matter of minutes, though, as experienced hooker Kieron Cunningham pulled off his trademark trick to score, barging through four Wigan defenders. Full-back Paul Wellens addes the simple conversion to give his side a 6-4 lead.

Second-rower Gareth Hock thought he had put his side back in front just before 20 minutes. A superb break from Roberts took Wigan up the field, and after quick passing to the left flank, Hock twisted inside to touch down. But after much deliberation, video referee Phil Bentham chalked it off for a double movement.

New signing Gleeson’s first real contribution to the Wigan attack came in the 24th minute, when another break opened up gaps in the Saints defence. Space opened up on the right flank, but Phil Bailey‘s attempt at a quick flick back just hit touch behind Gleeson.

The game continued at a pulsating tempo. Captain Sean O’Loughlin nearly capitalised on an error on the right flank, but was just tackled at the last. Frequent handling errors at the crucial stage or more solid tackling kept the score at 6-4.

Three minutes shy of half-time, a Roberts penalty tied it up at 6-6. Substitute Maurie Fa’asavalu was penalised for having hold of Iafeta Paleaaesina’s neck in the tackle, and Roberts added two simple points in front of the sticks to draw the scores level at half-time.

It took seven minutes for the second half to get into gear after a spell of basic attack-defence rugby, which culminated in a Pryce chip going out on the full. Roberts arguably should have put the home side in front straight after, when Tony Puletua riskily tried to keep the ball alive near the touchline. Roberts tried to punt the ball forward but his weak second touch gave Meli the chance to recover.

Wigan stayed on the front foot, and after stern defence from Mick Potter’s Saints, they controversially took the lead with Ainscough’s second try of the game on 53 minutes. Quickfire lateral passing allowed Wigan to exploit space on the right flank, and after it looked like Gardner had heroically dragged the 19-year-old winger into touch, video referee Bentham awarded benefit of the doubt to give the try.

But the Merseyside outfit turned the game on the hour mark, after centre Matt Gidley crashed under in the corner, and then Pryce took full advantage in Wigan’s inability to deal with a high bomb to grab the killer score. 19-year-old half-back Kyle Eastmond stepped in with the kicking duties, adding the extras on both tries to open up an six-point cushion.

As much as Wigan tried, St Helens‘ defence held up and Eastmond’s magnificent drop-goal from 40 yards put the game to bed with a minute on the clock.

The defeat keeps Wigan rooted in ninth after nine games, while they look up the table at arch enemy St Helens, sitting pretty at the top of the pile.

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