SAINTS being paired with Wigan in the Challenge Cup semi-final will have brought back memories for fans of a certain generation.

A humdinger of a game with an agonising finale is captured here in an excerpt from Mike Critchley’s Patience of a Saint, 1978-96

AFTER crushing Whitehaven, Saints’ opponents in the semi were a more formidable and familiar foe – Wigan.

On paper Saints stood no chance – not against Gregory and Edwards, Iro and Lydon, Mean Dean and Ellery – the very guys that had made the men in the red vee such a laughing stock at Wembley 1989.

However, in an enthralling game worthy of the Old Trafford surroundings, a rejuvenated Saints stuck it to them – ensuring there was no walkover.

Saints made full use of the open spaces with tries from teen scrum half Sean Devine and Les Quirk giving a 12-6 half time lead. Quirk’s try was a gem, a score worthy of booking a cup final passage.

Taking the ball inside his own 20-metre line, the deceptively quick Cumbrian scorched around speedster Joe Lydon and then his long strides ate up the yards to take him past Ged Byrne and Steve Hampson for a wonder try.

St Helens Star:

The noise from the Saints contingent in the 26,489 crowd reached a crescendo because suddenly there was a real belief that we could do it.

Crucially, Saints lost skipper Cooper through injury for a 10-minute spell – and while he was off the game turned and our lead became a two-point deficit.

A Paul Loughlin penalty levelled the scores 10 minutes from time and it became a game of next score wins.

Collectively our fans were all thinking, ‘It’s now or never!’ because we would never play so well in the replay!

There were half chances in the closing stages – and Devine tore through the Wigan defence to roars of approval but the support was AWOL and the young scrum half was dragged into touch.

Saints’ defence was also on its mettle, epitomised by a tremendous try saving tackle by teenage full back Gary Connolly on superstar Lydon.

After throwing all bar the kitchen sink at Wigan, and soaking up all in return, Saints lost in the cruellest of fashion 90 seconds shy of a hooter that should have brought a replay.

From 40 metres out Ellery Hanley blasted past four would-be defenders before popping a ball forward for the supporting Andy Goodway. The final pass was a mile forward – but the protestations were in vain as the GB second row plonked the ball beneath the posts.

The roars of ‘for-ward’ were closely followed by that most awful sound in rugby league from the other part of the ground, ‘Wi-gan, Wi-gan, Wi-gan!’ The Pie-eaters in the crowd had suddenly found their voices again.

It was a genuine heartbreaker – even Saints fans hardened by miserable Wembley defeats left the ground ashen faced, such was the manner of this loss.

As a fan you felt for the lads – forwards like big George Mann, Bernard Dwyer and Shane Cooper who had slogged their guts out.

But it was that same old story – Saints had to be on their game for the full 80, not 78 minutes and 30 seconds, to beat a Wigan team built with unlimited resources.