Shell-shocked St Helens face their biggest test of character of the season
Saints were expected to knock spots off Leigh Leopards in their Challenge Cup semi-final but fell to a surprise defeat.
Shell-shocked Saints now face arguably their biggest test of character and commitment of the season - recovering from the numbing 12-10 Challenge Cup semi-final setback against Leigh Leopards at Warrington on Saturday.
The trophy favourites were expected to knock spots off the resurgent Leopards but failed to turn their first half superiority into more than a 6-0 lead and paid the ultimate penalty for a lack of cutting edge in attack as Adrian Lam’s side picked themselves off the canvas to deliver a knockout blow.
Crestfallen head coach Paul Wellens said: "In big games like this there are small margins and you can probably point to a lot of things during the course of the game, but I’d like to congratulate Leigh on the journey they have been on as a club to reach Wembley in their first season back in Super League."
He added: "Games like this can turn pretty quickly. We got opened up on our right edge at the start of the second half and that turned out to be a momentum shift. At the same time, I enjoyed the way our guys stuck at their task and finished the game strongly but like the previous week when facing the Catalans Dragons we were on the wrong end of the result."
It could have been so different had Saints executed the number of chances which came their way - none more crucial than the far from easy goal missed by Tommy Makinson in the dying embers of the game which would have levelled the scores and set up golden point extra time.
A tight finale didn’t seem likely after St Helens monopolised the first half exchanges. A slender interval lead following a Joey Lussick try and Makinson goal was scant reward for their efforts, but Leigh defended well during this period and eventually booked their first Wembley appearance since 1971.
The underdogs climbed their way back into the tie early in the second half with out-of-the-blue tries from Ollie Holmes and Zak Hardaker and a Ben Reynolds penalty after a late tackle from Sione Mata’utia, who was shown a yellow card.
Despite losing the Australian and Samoa international forward, Saints bossed the late exchanges and when stand-in skipper Jonny Lomax crossed the whitewash two minutes from time the tie was back on, only for Makinson’s kick to sail wide of the target and allow Leigh to hold on to their 12-10 advantage.