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FULL TIME: St Helens 12 Warrington Wolves 22
SUPER League’s top two spots look to be settled tonight after Warrington Wolves’ first win in St Helens since 1994.
Second-placed Wolves now have five points of daylight between themselves and Saints in the battle for home advantage in the play-offs.
Wolves, who are three points adrift of Saturday's visitors Wigan, were dominant for much of the game and sealed the win with Chris Riley ’s 64th minute try, putting the visitors 22-6 ahead.
When Paul Wellens went over with eight minutes to go there could have been some fear among the travelling supporters of another famous Saints comeback of previous Super League seasons but not on this occasion.
Tommy Makinson was ruled to have touched down Briers’ kick behind his own line as he attempted to recover a spill and the goal-line drop out proved costly for Saints.
The visitors worked an opening on the left with Briers and Richie Myler feeding Brett Hodgson who backed himself in a three-on-two and just reached the line with a stretch out of Michael Shenton’s tackle.
Hodgson’s conversion bounced into the field of play off the right post to leave Wolves 4-0 ahead after two minutes.
It was Briers’ boot that did the damage for Wolves’ second try seven minutes later.
The hanging punt across field gave Joel Monaghan time to challenge Francis Meli in the air and the Australian patted the ball back for Hill to pick up and charge over the top of Lance Hohaia. Hodgson made sure of the extras for 10-0 to Warrington.
Things could have got worse for Saints after Makinson’s missed grab for another Briers kick gave Wolves six more tackles.
And not looking to change a plan that was working Briers then tried his luck on the other flank with Joel Monaghan snatching the ball from Meli’s grasp for what appeared to be a third Wolves try in the 19th minute.
But video referee Phil Bentham ruled Meli had landed on his feet with the ball before Monaghan stole it and a 20-metre restart was ordered.
Saints badly needed some spark and it came when Meli hared clear down the left flank but supporting Jonny Lomax could not pocket the inside pass and the move broke down.
The game did change at this point though, with Saints’ advances out of their own half aided by Wolves conceding a succession of five penalties.
That period enabled Saints to threaten the Wolves line for the first time in the game and they made it count.
Good hands to the right by James Roby, Lomax, Hohaia, Chris Flannery and Paul Wellens gave Shenton just enough room to cross with Trent Waterhouse hanging on to him.
Makinson added a fine conversion from out wide to cut the gap to four points with 24 minutes played and that is how it stayed until half time.
Wolves started the second half as brightly as the first, with help from a high tackle on Westwood.
Briers miscued his kick to touch but it bounced awkwardly around Meli and over the line 10 metres from the corner post to put Wolves in prime position to strike.
A twisting run from Briers in the middle led to a scramble in defence and on the next play the ball was fired wide to the left by Michael Monaghan , Myler and Hodgson for Waterhouse to crash over on an unstoppable angle.
Hodgson’s extras put Wolves 16-6 in front with two minutes of the second half played.
Makinson came to the rescue four minutes later as he just managed to push Riley’s foot into touch in the act of scoring after he had been put away by Ryan Atkins.
Saints were living dangerously as Wolves tried to tighten the screw.
Hohaia showed his pace over 80 metres to catch Myler on a counter attack after Shenton had knocked on in a threatening position close to the Warrington line.
Then an overlap was worked for Atkins to put Riley over again but the pass was forward.
And a Joel Monaghan knock back of another Briers kick was ruled by Richard Silverwood to have gone forward when Michael Monaghan was looking to cash in.
It only seemed a matter of time before one would count and in the 64th minute Briers, Hodgson and Atkins combined to send Riley over in the left corner and Hodgson’s conversion from the touchline made it 22-6.
Lomax worked an opening for Mark Flanagan to break away and put Wellens over with eight minutes to go but it was a token response.
Saints: Paul Wellens; Tommy Makinson, Michael Shenton, Josh Jones, Francis Meli; Lance Hohaia, Jonny Lomax; Josh Perry, James Roby, Anthony Laffranchi, Tony Puletua, Chris Flannery, Jon Wilkin. Subs: Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mark Flanagan, Paul Clough, Andy Dixon.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Joel Monaghan, Stefan Ratchford, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Richie Myler; Adrian Morley, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood , Tyrone McCarthy . Subs: Michael Monaghan, Simon Grix , Paul Wood , Mike Cooper .