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Warrington 6 St Helens 28
Jonny Lomax sells an outrageous dummy to Wolves full back Brett Hodgson on the way to sending Tommy Makinson over. PICTURES by Bernard Platt and Anthony Platt.
SAINTS showed once again that they can raise their game when the play-offs come and they are now just 80 minutes away from a seventh consecutive appearance Old Trafford.
There is still plenty of hard work to do – and under this daft format the chances are that they will have to beat the Wolves again in a fortnight’s time if they are to progress.
But for the moment Saints can give themselves a massive pat on the back after seeing their pack completely master the opposing set.
They were led in that task by an aggressive stint from Sia Soliola, back from injury, and he went at the primrose and blue outfit at full tilt in both attack and defence.
Although Wolves were missing the Big Bens Westwood and Harrison and were further weakened by the loss of Garreth Carvell after he was smashed by a three man tackle, that should not diminish the monumental effort of the Saints forwards, so often criticised as weak this term.
Psychologically this win is a tonic for Saints, but it may also stick the knife into the Wolves, who are desperate to shake off the tag of bottlers having now only won two of their ten play-off matches.
Both sides made plenty of early errors and inevitably the opening try came from a mistake when a back-pedalling Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook threw a forward pass instead of taking the tackle.
In the next passage of play Richie Myler sent full back Brett Hodgson dummying and stepping his way over the line.
olves were now on the front foot and should have extended their lead but hooker Michael Monaghan was stopped by a great tackle from Soliola, who was beginning to make his presence felt.
Moments later Monaghan charged down Roby’s clearance kick but knocked on with the line begging. It was a fortunate let off for Saints – but they clung on, rolled with the punches and countered.
Saints levelled the scores when Jonny Lomax and Paul Wellens shifted play right for Soliola to cruise through a hole to bash the ball down. The alert, pacy and aggressive Soliola then smashed his way through four minutes before the interval, when following a Michael Monaghan knock on, he snapped it up and raced downfield.
He effortlessly brushed off England centre Ryan Atkins, who incidentally had a shocking night, in before shipping the ball out for winger Tommy Makinson to fly in.
Having got no change up the middle, Lee Briers tried to pick at what he suspected were weak seams on the flanks and tested both wingmen with high balls.
It did create pressure but the Saints defence held firm – and that was key. From that moment, the arm wrestle seemed to be going Saints’ way and the large and noisy travelling army lapped it up.
If only they could transport that noise to Langtree Park!
Saints countered magnificently when James Roby shot up the blind side, allowing Jon Wilkin to set Lomax free with a delicate short pass.
Lomax kept his head well to out-do Hodgson, leaving the experienced full back on his backside before sending crowd favourite Makinson zipping in for his second.
When Tony Puletua, another player who has upped his game at the right time of the year, intervened to slip a super offload for Roby to touch down it was game over.
Francis Meli touched down in the corner from a Wellens pass to wrap up the scoring to further twist the knife.
The only shame is that the game – under this clumsy format – has essentially only decided home advantage for the semi-final.
It hardly seems a fitting reward for such a magnificent effort, but the players get the week off to prepare for what should be a battle royale.
Warrington: Hodgson; Riley, Ratchford, Atkins, J. Monaghan; Briers, Myler; Morley, Higham, Hill, Waterhouse, Grix, McCarthy. Subs: M. Monaghan, Carvell, Wood, Cooper.
Saints: Wellens; Makinson, Wheeler, Jones, Meli; Hohaia, Lomax; Perry, Roby, Laffranchi, Puletua, Flanagan, Wilkin. Subs: Soliola, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Clough, Dixon.