T - Ian Thornley 2, Liam Thompson, Greg Burke 2, Danny Bridge
G - Jack Murphy 5
St Helens 26
T - Scott Clarke, Le Gaskell 2, Danny Jones, Dave Pike
G - Tom Makinson 3
The Wigan Academy team secured a vital and worthy 34-26 victory over St Helens Academy with an inconsistent performance. Heavy rain prior to kick off and the lengthy grass Of Edge Hall Lane made for quite difficult playing conditions but the Wigan team was boosted by the selection of Ian Thornley, Johnny Molloy, Jack Hughes and Matthew Sarsfield in the Wigan 17.
The initial ‘softening up’ period saw St Helens only threaten to break the Wigan defensive line once whereupon Ryan King was able to force his opposing Saints winger into touch. Scrum half Sam Powell replied with a nice half break for Wigan.
In the 11th minute Ian Thornley made the first telling break. Thornley playing centre, powered onto a pass up the centre of the pitch and broke through the heart of the Saints defence before being tackled by the Saints full back.
The scrambling Saints defence was then forced to concede a penalty by ripping the ball loose from the grasp of Matt Crow in a two man tackle. Wigan opted to run the ball and from the resulting possession scored the first try of the match. The ball was moved left and the strong running Greg Burke was simply unstoppable so close to the try line giving Wigan a 4-0 lead. Jack Murphy was unable to add the conversion.
Wigan grew in confidence and began to play quality rugby league. St Helens conceded a penalty on the last tackle in the 15th minute which presented Wigan with the opportunity to increase their lead. In one of the best passing moves of the match Sam Powell found fullback Matthew Russell who skilfully sent Ian Thornley in unopposed for a try to the left of the posts. Murphy added the conversion to give Wigan a 10-0 lead.
The second quarter of the match saw Wigan’s youngsters lose their way and allow St Helens to come back into the game. Both teams showed little respect for possession as the mistake rate rose giving both teams opportunities with the ball. Greg Burke made a break in the 25th minute but lost the ball whilst impressive St Helens fullback Nathan Ashe broke clear until he was stopped by an excellent tackle from his opposite number Matthew Russell.
A Wigan mistake in the 30th minute enabled St Helens to score their first try of the match. An innocuous high kick on the last tackle was dropped by Gareth Melling forcing Wigan to drop on the loose ball in an offside position resulting in a penalty. From the resulting set, Scott Clarke burrowed over the try line from acting half back between the posts presenting Tom Makinson with a simple conversion to reduce Wigan’s lead to 4 points. Wigan 10 - St Helens 6.
St Helens were now dominating play. A chip kick sent Ashe clear for Saints in the 39th minute and only a poor pass by the full back prevented a second St Helens try. However, on the stroke of half time, Saints grabbed the lead following an element of good fortune. A grubber kick from Lee Gaskell seemed to rebound off Sam Powell but referee Tony Mahar ruled that Powell had played at the ball and signalled for the St Helens tackle count to restart. Impressive St Helens scrum half Lee Gaskell was able to break clear to the left of the posts enabling Makinson to add the conversion and secure a 12-10 half time lead in St Helens favour.
Wigan emerged from the dressing room revitalised, presumably by the words of their coach John Pendlebury. Showing far more urgency Wigan soon had St Helens on the back foot. In the 44th minute Sam Powell took full advantage of a Saints market lying on the floor to scoot and break clear from acting half.
Powell passed the ball to Ian Thornley who ran unopposed under the sticks for his second try of the match. Murphy added the easy conversion to give Wigan a 16-12 lead.
A knock on by Saints centre Tom Makinson gifted Wigan field position and possession and they took full advantage. Loose forward Johnny Molloy drove over the try line in the 49th minute. Murphy added the conversion and Wigan were now leading 22-12.
Two minutes later a now rampant Wigan added a 3rd try since the second half commenced. Powell found Danny Bridge on the left and he was able to stand and pass in the tackle to Greg Burke who timed his supporting run superbly to score his second try of the match. Murphy added the conversion. Wigan 28 - St Helens 12.
St Helens Scott Clarke was somewhat unlucky to be sin binned in the 54th minute for a late tackle on Wigan’s kicker, Sam Powell. A penalty would have been sufficient punishment and consistent given similar challenges had previously gone unpunished. In the 56th minute Gareth Melling made a nice break but with a 1 man advantage Wigan became careless in possession. A lack of concentration being exacerbated by the rainstorm that started to fall during the second half. A loose Wigan pass went to ground in the 59th minute enabling Lee Gaskell to scoop the ball up and run in unopposed for St Helens 3rd try of the night and his second of the match. Makinson added the conversion. Wigan 28 – St Helens 18 Wigan restored their advantage in the 64th minute when Liam Thompson performed a very good hit and spin move to score underneath the sticks. Murphy added the conversion. Wigan 34-St Helens 18.
St Helens refused to lie down. Aided by several penalties they started to control field position and possession. A cross field kick from Gaskell forced Wigan to concede a drop out. From the resulting set St Helens were able to reduce Wigan’s lead. In the 69th minute, Saints second row Danny Jones was able to score. Inexplicably and vitally Makinson missed the conversion to leave Wigan still ahead by 2 converted tries. Wigan 34 – St Helens 22.
Despite their lead, a desperate St Helens (a Saints defeat would leave them out of the play offs) were dominating play and Wigan conceded repeated penalties. In the 76th Minute Saints scored what appeared to be a controversial try. In front of the main stand the ball appeared to be spilled by the St Helens player, David Pike. However, after consulting his touch judge Tony Mahar awarded the try. Fortunately Makinson was unable to add a very difficult conversion from the right wing touchline to leave Wigan 8 points ahead. Wigan 34 – St Helens 26
As the hooter sounded St Helens were still trying to breach the Wigan defence. A last gasp Gaskell chip kick followed by a grubber kick saw a grateful Logan Tomkins dive on the loose ball for Wigan.
The Wigan Academy Team is now well place to secure 2nd place and a Grand Final eliminator tie versus Wakefield.
Wigan: Matthew Russell, Ryan King, Matthew Crow, Ian Thornley, Gareth Melling, Jack Murphy, Sam Powell, Matthew Sarsfield, Logan Tomkins, Liam Thompson, Greg Burke, Jack Hughes, Jonny Molloy
Subs: Liam Carberry, Kieron Harrison, Danny Bridge, Adam Jones