Match reflection: How the bobble of the ball and blast of the whistle altered game's momentum (From St Helens Star)
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Match reflection: How the bobble of the ball and blast of the whistle altered game's momentum
11:20am Thursday 4th October 2012 in Latest News
FOR a sport that provides such exhilaration and pleasure, rugby league can be a cruel game at times – one in which the bobble of a ball and a hasty blast on the whistle can dramatically and irrevocably shift the momentum of a contest.
And against an opposition as ruthless and calculating as Warrington it can be mercilessly unforgiving to any sign of frailty and weakness, whether that is in the form of discipline or poor ball control.
And so it was on Saturday night when Saints fell at the final hurdle to miss out on Old Trafford for the first time since 2005.
After dusting the Wolves so comprehensively on their own Halliwell Jones midden a fortnight ago Mike Rush’s men had reason to be optimistic against the double-seeking Wolves.
And that mood gathered some momentum during a first half in which Saints’ forwards effectively bossed the show, dominated field position and appeared to have the game well in control approaching the interval.
After seeing Francis Meli touch down in the corner, only to be recalled for a forward pass, Saints finally got a reward for all their early pressure when they produced a breathtaking piece of football and clinical finishing.
Chris Flannery, playing his last professional game of rugby league, fashioned the opportunity for Tommy Makinson to show his acrobatic skills and put the ball down one-handed in the corner.
For years fans at Saints have bemoaned the lack of a winger to excite the crowds like Messrs Albert, Sullivan, Ledger and dare I say Vollenhoven used to do.
He may be no Voll, but Makinson is carving himself his own little niche on the right with his uncanny ability to polish off a try in the tightest of spots.
He was unable to improve it from the touchline and a slip by Saints soon allowed the Wolves to get back into the game.
Jon Wilkin slipped in his own 30 metre zone while clearing his line and then lost the ball on impact and from there the Wolves pounced.
Swift hands from Richie Myler and a delicate short ball from Brett Hodgson put Chris Riley in at the corner. Hodgson’s goal nudged the visitors ahead.
Alas that pattern of Saints mistake or penalty followed by a Wolves score was to become a recurring theme as the game wore on, but initially it appeared to be only a temporary blip as the men in the red vee roared back into the match.
They were assisted in that mission by the introduction of Sia Soliola off the bench as Saints sought a repetition of the way that tactic worked last time out.
Defensively the big former Kiwi international was immediately busy, putting in a few rib-cage rattlers with Wolves veteran enforcer Adrian Morley feeling the full force of the human wrecking ball.
It helped put Saints back on the front foot and only repeated Wolves infringements for offside on the try line kept denied them the score.
Just when it appeared as though Warrington’s gamesmanship was going to be rewarded by a remarkable overhead offload from Mark Flanagan sent Francis Meli in at the corner.
Saints were well on top at this stage and when Wilkin launched the perfect bomb for Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to chase, Hodgson was spooked enough to spill enabling skipper Paul Wellens to take his year’s tally to 24.
Makinson’s goal gave them an eight-point cushion – and maybe it should have been more given the way they had dominated field position – but a two score lead would have been more than handy to take into the break.
Alas, just before the half time hooter Jonny Lomax’s stabbed grubber, which on another day would have found the ground and forced a repeat set, hit Myler’s shin and allowed him to scoop it up before speeding downfield. Although he was chased down by Lance Hohaia, the Wolves scented blood.
In shades of the last gasp try they conceded against Catalan earlier in the campaign, Saints failed to adequately clamp the Wolves ball carriers who offloaded for fun until Lee Briers sent Simon Grix storming over the line.
Hodgson goaled to cut the deficit to a couple of points – and the momentum shift had commenced against the run of play.
The try that put Wolves in front after the break was a jammy one, with Briers allowed time to chip high for Joel Monaghan to collect, losing the ball backwards, before re-gathering to touch down.
Hodgson slotted the goal and Wolves had the lead.
Saints were not done and for five minutes after that they put in a massive effort to wrestle the control back.
How that big effort was concluded was harsh to say the least, with a great quick set from Saints followed by a delicate kick from Hohaia pinning the Wolves back.
Saints ratcheted up their tackling, hammering the Wolves ball carriers until the third tackle the referee blew for offside which was remarkable given the Wolves unpunished shenanigans on that score in the previous set.
It was a big call, and one that absolutely flattened Saints after their big effort.
Saints’ body language said it all and in their momentary lapse Ryan Atkins stormed through, before putting an inside pass to Trent Waterhouse for a crucial try on the hour mark.
Another Waterhouse try four minutes later, given despite some blatant obstruction from Atkins, more or less made sure.
Maybe the video ref gave him the nod given the awful effort to pin down the giant second rower with three tired men slipping off him and allowing him to twist his way over.
He was followed over the whitewash by Riley, after Atkins had stolen the ball from Lomax.
Saints never gave up – even though some fans did with a premature waving of the white flag by chanting for Leeds Rhinos - and they were rewarded with a second Meli touchdown to make it 18-34.
However, Wolves had the last word with Hodgson booting a long range penalty to book Wolves first Grand Final appearance and their fans a first trip to Old Trafford, as non autograph hunters, since 1987.
It would be naive to put this defeat all down to luck – the biggest difference between the sides – was the fluency in which Warrington transferred the ball and the productive ruthlessness in which they could make their periods of pressure. Those harsh calls and slip ups would have been an irrelevance had Saints been able to get a better return for their first half dominance – but nobody can say it was a lack of effort.
Paul Wellens; Tommy Makinson, Chris Flannery, Josh Jones, Francis Meli; Lance Hohaia, Jonny Lomax; Josh Perry, James Roby, Anthony Laffranchi, Tony Puletua, Mark Flanagan, Jon Wilkin. Subs: Sia Soliola, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paul Clough, Andy Dixon.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Chris Riley, Ryan Atkins, Stefan Ratchford, Joel Monaghan; Lee Briers, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Ben Harrison, Ben Westwood, Trent Waterhouse, Simon Grix. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper.