The scoreline of 36-20 perhaps didn’t reflect the true nature of the contest. Widnes led for parts, and were only 2 points behind entering the final 10 minutes. It was with a couple of late tries – typical of St. Helens – that the scoreline was stretched to its final amount.
It took six minutes for the first try, and it was scored by the eventual victors.
A fifth tackle kick from Widnes fell to Swift, and the chase from the Widnes defenders was not up to the task. From the Saints 20m line, the winger sailed down the centre of the pitch without even so much as a hand laid on his shirt; too fast and too agile for the Vikings. Percival converted: 6-0.
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Widnes replied on 14 minutes. Saints, conceding a penalty, found themselves defending on their 10m line. A switch play went from the left to the right, and Mellor saw a gap that he should never have been able to squeeze through. But squeeze and crawl the halfback did and, with two prop forwards on his back, he was able to stretch the ball out over the line. Craven converted: 6-6.
Knowing how close the game was, Saints opted for a conversion for a penalty on 21 minutes. Percival converted: 8-6.
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The game truly went end to end, and both sides went close to scoring.
With St. Helens pinned in their own half, the Vikings would have felt secure, but a Masoe offload went through the hands, and Swift found space down the left flank. Cutting back inside, he found Saints’ 5th choice fullback, Percival, backing him up, and released the try scorer after a 2-on-1 with the Widnes fullback. Percival converted his own try: 14-6.
With 8 minutes to go before half time, Saints were given a penalty near the Widnes sticks. Knowing that they were more than a try-score in front, they elected to run it. The ball went left, and drew the Widnes defence over, and was immediately thrown back to the right, where Matty Dawson had acres of space in front of him to dive in the corner. The conversion missed: 18-6.
The game was on the cusp of slipping away from the Vikings, but they responded as was necessary. With good field position from a Cahill break, they shifted the ball to the right, with Danny Craven powering over with 3 defenders in tow. Ah Van converted the try: 18-12.
Such was the score at the break.
The second half was started the better by Widnes, and they back to within 2 points with only 3 minutes played.
A penalty for a high shot put them on half way, and a break from Dudson put them on the Saints’ 20m line. With the defence in tatters, Brown cut out 3 men down the left hand side and Ah Van ghosted in to the corner. The try couldn’t be converted: 18-16.
The lead was taken for the Vikings after 51 minutes. Chancing their arm, Widnes made good metres down the flanks. On the back of a scrum from an immediate Saints knock on, the ball went left and Chris Dean’s dummy gave him enough space to crash in the corner. Conversion missed again: 18-20.
Such was to be the last score for Widnes, with Saints running in 18 unanswered points.
The first came from Kyle Amor. Roby dashed out of dummy half with 10m between him and the line, and needed only to tip the ball onto the prop forward at his shoulder to dive over the line next to the posts. Questions were raised whether or not the ball actually touched the floor, but the video referees were satisfied, and the conversion from Percival made it 24-20.
Only the 1 try separated the sides, but with nine minutes remaining Saints ran the ball on the last tackle. The surprise option can be the only excuse made of the Widnes defence, who were woeful in their attempts to stop Jordan Turner; a feat they could not manage as he spun out of the tackle to score. The conversion missed: 28-20.
Percival made at least one of the two tries Widnes needed be converted, with a penalty on 77 minutes: 30-20.
The fullback added a 2nd try of his own with the final play of the game. From a scrum – Widnes in acceptance of their fate – the ball was worked left. Bringing it back right, Percival ran on the inside shoulder of his halfback to score. He then converted his own try: 36-20 final score.
The last 10 minutes separated the two sides. If Ah Van had been able to convert a play with 5 minutes remaining, the score, and ultimate result, could have been very different. But the Saints carried the tropes of the Saints of old: grinding down opponents to secure a within in the closing moments.
Widnes should not be too disheartened. Their effort was solid, and the reason for their defeat was more the prowess of their opponents than any shortcomings of their own.
St. Helens now move to play Leeds in the semi-final on July 31st.
St. Helens: Percival, Dawson, Jones, Turner, Swift, Burns, Walsh, Amor, Roby, Walmsley, Wilkin (C), Greenwood, McCarthy-Scarsbrook (subs) Richard, Masoe, Savelio, Flanagan
Tries: Swift, Percival (2), Dawson, Amor, Turner
Goals: Percival (6)
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury, Flynn, Marsh, Dean, Ah Van, Brown (C), Mellor, Manuokafoa, Heremaia, Gerrard, Clarkson, Whitley, Leuluai (subs) Cahill, Craven, Dudson, Isa
Tries: Mellor, Craven, Ah Van, Dean
Goals: Craven, Ah Van