Saints 19-6 Huddersfield Giants
There are few things more emotionally and physically draining than losing a rugby league challenge cup semi-final to your deadliest foe and local rivals.
So Saints deserve enormous credit for bouncing back from the loss to Wigan Warriors and fighting off a determined challenge from fourth placed Huddersfield Giants; relying on determined scrambling defence to repel the Yorkshire outfits offensive efforts and craft a hard-earned 19-6 victory.
Trademark tries from two of Saints veterans turned the game their way. One … a flash of class from stand-off, Leon Pryce, who’s dummy and shimmy skinned the resolute Giants defence. Two … a bruising barge to the line by 31-year old fullback, Paul Wellens, chiming into the line with perfect timing to crash over at right centre and give the home side valuable breathing space.
A 40-metre effort from prop Louis McCarthy Scarsbrook and three conversions from winger Jamie Foster padded the gap.
The Giants snatched a try of their own on 62 minutes though when Kevin Brown’s never-say-die attitude enabled him to pat back Danny Brough’s bomb at the dead-ball line; Faalogo was on hand to touchdown. But Lee Gaskell’s 73rd minute drop goal sealed the win, which consolidates the likelihood of a third place finish for the Merseysiders; the first time they’ve finished outside of the top-two in seven seasons.
This was a bruising encounter From the moment James Graham and Luke Robinson clashed head-to-head in midfield, with the gritty Giants half-back left senseless on the ground for a few worrying moments, to the final gut-wrenching tackle.
All the more reason then to wonder at the fact that Paul Wellens, was playing his 400th such professional game.
The Blackbrook-born local has been fiercely loyal to his home town club since making his debut as an 18 year-old against the Halifax Blue Sox in August 1998.
Wellens’ 42nd minute try came with Saints clinging to a 6-0 advantage and sealed a memorable night for him. It was typical of the courageous play he has displayed for St Helens in the 13-years since then. Throughout that time Wellens has been in the thick of it for the Saints, time and time again showing that he is a man who rises to the big occasion.
Although no longer as mobile as at his peak, Wellens’ positioning and reading of the game remains exceptional and his enthusiasm for the game is infectious.
His leadership in a young Saints side is essential in this transitional period between Saints legendary teams of the early Super League years to what the club hope will be a bright future built around more home-grown talent. It’ll be great to see Wellens take the field in Saints new stadium next season, a link to the many Saints legends who paved the way to it.