Tom Lineham’s two match-winning tries sent Warrington to Old Trafford in a stunning 13-18 win over St. Helens at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Here’s our verdict…
Saints had won all three previous meetings between the two sides this year, scoring 30 points or more in two of them. Tonight, however, it was much, much closer. And despite being the clear underdogs, it was to be Warrington’s night.
As expected, the opening exchanges were played at a fractious pace and, after Jonny Lomax’s mistake in the centre of the field, it was Warrington who applied pressure first.
As well as intensity, the magnitude of the game was clear for all to see, with Tommy Makinson limping to the sideline after only three minutes before seeing his teammates make more nervous mistakes.
With Morgan Knowles starting ahead of James Roby in a bid to quell Wolves’ fierce power at the start of the game, Justin Holbrook was certainly aware of the quality that the visitors had in attack.
Despite this, however, Saints kept making early mistakes; hauling Chris Hill to the ground after referee Robert Hicks called the Warrington man held.
And they were punished for it. The Wolves opted to kick the two points and Tyrone Roberts obliged in sending the ball over just 10 yards in front of the sticks.
The only bright spark in the opening quarter of an hour for Saints was player of the season, Ben Barba. The Australian skilled passed not one, but two players before being pulled to the turf.
His run did however create the first spell of pressure on the Warrington defence and on the next play, Saints were awarded another cheap penalty from which Danny Richardson kicked Saints level.
Neither side were having much joy down the flanks, but Lomax nearly burst through the heart of the Wolves’ pack, only to be brought down at the last possible moment.
With Barba’s move back to his homeland confirmed, he seemed like a man on a mission, determined to end his spell on the biggest of highs. Not only was he becoming a menace offensively, but he also stopped Stefan Ratchford breaking over the halfway line and bearing down on the goal area. And, for a while at least, it seemed like he would be rewarded.
Both sides were lacking composure in the first half and there was better example than when Ratchford missed a sitter of a drop-goal attempt from in front of the posts just 15 yards out; smashing the ball off the left post.
And St. Helens made him pay. No sooner had the game restarted, Danny Richardson found himself in front of the sticks and, from exactly the same position that Ratchford lined up from at the other end, the scrum-half gave Saints the narrowest of half-time leads.
Although he was effective on the scoreboard, Richardson’s first play of the ball came in the 26th minute and, remarkably, he was only tackled once in the entire half. In the second 40, however, he became much more influential.
After his tremendous restarting kick won his side a goal line drop out, he played a superb grubber which proved too much to handle for the Warrington defence and Luke Douglas’ proactive nature saw the Englishman launch himself on top of the ball to score the first try of the game.
Warrington were looking to reach their fifth Grand Final in eight seasons and having lost all four they’d played in, they weren’t going to go down without a fight. Less than three minutes after conceding, the away side made their point.
Ratchford drew two men towards him before slipping the ball to Jack Hughes on his outside, and the youngster held off Barba to slide over whitewash and get the Wire right back in it. Roberts, however, pulled the conversion wide of the posts.
But Hughes then went from hero to zero for the travelling Wolves, blocking Lomax off after being beaten by the Saints man’s kick. The hosts again opted for the two points and Richardson didn’t disappoint the home crowd.
Trailing by five points, Warrington needed to improve their decision making and with 20 minutes to go, they did just that. Fast hands and good running saw the ball reach Tom Lineham inches from the touchline, and the England international charged through the the challenge of Barba to force the ball over the line. Roberts made the conversion and the Wolves were back in front.
Incredibly, the speed and physicality showed no sign of slowing up and although they kept battering the Wire back line, St. Helens just couldn’t find their way through. So it was left to that man Richardson again to deliver another brilliant drop goal and tie the game at 12-12 with the same number remaining in the clock.
And guess what? He did it again. Saints’ forwards drove towards the try line, leaving just enough space in front of the kicker to enable him to smack the ball off the crossbar and between the posts for a 13-12 lead.
If Warrington had Richardson on their books, they would’ve strolled to victory here, but they do have a certain Mr. Lineham. The winger collected the ball more than 30 metres from goal and set about scoring one of the tries of the season.
He stepped inside one defender, surged passed another and then flung himself into the St. Helens defence and stretched his right arm over the line to slam the ball down. Roberts added the two points, handing Warrington a stunning 13-18 win and booking their Grand Final place in the process.
And so this once unbeatable St. Helens side end the season with just one piece of silverware, while beaten Challenge Cup finalists Warrington have the chance to create history and become the first Wire side to win at Old Trafford next Saturday. Can they make it their ‘Theatre of Dreams’?
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Saints didn’t deliver
Having led the regular Super League table from start to finish, for St. Helens to only come away with the League Leaders’ shield, having lost to Catalans Dragons in the semi finals of the Challenge Cup, there will certainly be a tinge of regret in the dressing room. With Ben Barba returning to Australia, it may be a harder season next year.
Warrington are on the charge
After the heartbreaking loss to Catalans at Wembley, Warrington are a team on a mission. The club finished runners-up at Old Trafford in both 2013 and 2016, so the players have the chance to make history next weekend and etch Wire’s name on the famous trophy for the first time.
Man of the Match – Tom Lineham (Warrington Wolves)
In a match where match-winning chances came a at premium, Lineham took both of his superbly. The winger was nullified in the first half, but as the game wore on his role became much more pivotal and, when his opportunities to be the hero arrived, he delivered. Don’t bet against him doing the same again at Old Trafford next week.
St. Helens (3) 13
Goals: Richardson (3)
Drop Goals: Richardson (3)
Warrington (2) 18
Tries: Lineham (2)
Goals: Roberts (3)
Drop Goals: n/a
St. Helens: Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Knowles, Lee’s, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin.
Interchanges: Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Ashworth.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Charnley, T. King, Goodwin, Lineham, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Thompson, Hughes, Westwood.
Interchanges: G. King, Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin.
Referee: Robert Hicks