It was sudden death football as the Warrington Wolves travelled to the Totally Wicked Stadium to take on the highly fancied St Helens in the first Super Eights Play-Off, for a place in the Grand Final at Old Trafford in nine days time.
Few gave the Wolves much hope of making their fourth appearance in seven years, with the smart money being lumped on St Helens first return since they last lifted the trophy in 2014, to record a record eleventh appearance in the showpiece final.
Both coaches made several changes from the sides which met a fortnight ago when Saints were clear winners. But this was a different matter, at the end of a long season it was a night of knock-out football, and there were nerves on both sides as they looked to secure the ultimate prize.
Both sides started brightly and set the scene for a humdinger eighty minutes. Defences had dominated and on nine minutes, with Saints reluctant to clear the ruck after making the tackle, Tyrone Roberts took the opportunity to take an early lead with a penalty goal from inside the twenty.
On fourteen minutes Saints returned the two-pointer from ten metres when Danny Richardson slotted over Saints opening points with the boot.
After a clumsy play-the-ball on thirty-five Stefan Ratchford attempted a drop-goal from in front of the sticks but saw his effort go wide. Saints moved down the other end of the field on the next set and Richardson put his drop goal between the uprights for a 3-2 lead.
The Wolves finished the half on the offensive but there was very little to choose between two sides who were giving everything that they had got in their quest for the Grand Final.
When Stefan Ratchford made a hash of collecting the Saints kick-off, Saints turned up the heat and after a Richardson grubber was knocked back into goal weakly by Kevin Brown, and grounded by Luke Douglas for the opening try of the game on. Richardson added a simple comversion for a seven point lead.
On forty-four Jack Hughes showed the dummy to the Saints defence before sliding over the line for the four pointer with Jonny Lomax trying to make the tackle. It had taken just two minutes to respond but when Roberts missed the conversion, the Wolves were still three adrift.
Hughes blotted his copy book when he obstructed a kick through in front of his sticks on forty-nine, allowing Richardson a simple penalty goal for 11-6.
On fifty-seven Tom Lineham stooped low and slid over the line for Warringtons second try capping a twenty-metre run. Roberts added the extras from the touchline and the visitors had the lead for the first time in three quarters of an hour.
A late tackle from Joe Philbin on Richardson gave the Saints half-back a chance to edge Saints back into the lead but he pushed his kick wide but within thirty seconds he kicked his second drop goal from in front of the sticks to toe things up at 12-12.
Ratchford put the kick-off out on the full and Saints worked downfield with Richardson kicking his third drop goal of the night, this one creeping over off the cross-bar.
Six minutes before the final hooter some nifty footwork from Tom Lineham re-established the Wolves lead as he stepped past three attempted tackles before lunging for the line to score under the tackle of Dominique Peyroux. Roberts slotted over the conversion for a five point lead.
Warrington managed to maintain their defences through the remaining minutes of Saints onslaught to hold on for a famous win.
Few people gave the Warrington Wolves any chance of beating the all-conquering Saints but beat them they did. Saints were on their game but the Wolves were just a little better and made the most out of their opportunities. Saints will be gutted and shell-shocked after a season which looked to have their name all over it, but which sees them end it with just the League Leaders Shield. This was a supreme Warrington effort which sends them back to Old Trafford and who knows ‘could this be Warringtons year?’.
Saints: Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson (3G, 3DG), Lees, Knowles, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin. Subs: Roby, Douglas (T), McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Ashworth.
Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham (2T), Goodwin, King T, Charnley, Brown, Roberts (3G), Hill, Clark, Cooper, Hughes (T), Thompson, Westwood. Subs: Philbin, King G, Patton, Murdoch-Masila.
Referee: Robert Hicks.