The luck of the draw threw together Super League´s top two sides in a semi-final encounter of the highest calibre as St Helens faced the Wigan Warriors for a place in the Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at the end of the month.
Saints won the Super League encounter earlier in the season on Good Friday, but this was the Challenge Cup, and you can never write off Wigan in the cup, even if the bookies had made Saints the clear favourites and given Wigan an eight-point start on the handicap coupon.
The bookies believed that Saints were a shoe-in for the first final berth, it would take a miracle for Wigan to progress.
It was a sensational start for Wigan as they opened the scoring with just two minutes on the clock. Liam Marshall was the beneficiary after Josh Simm spilled a high kick and Wigan took full advantage to move the ball from right to left with the winger summersaulting over the line off a Jake Bibby pass to score in the corner. Harry Smith was wide with his conversion attempt as his teammates prepared for the inevitable Saints onslaught.
Wigan last the ball on their own forty metre line on five minutes and after a high tackle by John Bateman gifted another set inside the wigan ten, but the Wigan defence held strong. The stall was set for a classic.
A knock-on from Harry Smith under the shadow of the crossbar but when Saints spilled the ball Bevan French picked up and sprinted eighty metres to the Saints line before a great tackle from Jack Welsby. Joe Batchelor held on too long to slow the play-the-ball and saw the yellow card from referee James Child.
On the fifth tackle Cade Cust hit the line and speed off a Sith pass and spun over the line to ground on his back off. Smith was again wide with the conversion, the Warriors 8-0 ahead.
The third Wigan try came on twenty-nine with a Liam Farrell weaving run through the centre of the field to rip through a broken Saints defence and go over under the sticks for a great solo four pointer. This time Smith was accurate with the boot and with half an hour on the clock it was 14-0 to the Cherry and Whites.
Mark Percival went close on thirty-three, but strong Wigan defence held him up and a resolute Warriors defence had managed to keep the current cup holders pointless in the first half after a near perfect first half from Matt Peet´s men.
Saints got the all-important first try of the second half after a Liam Marshall mistake, spilling the ball in the tackle. Saints took full advantage moving the ball to the right with Konrad Hurrell crashing through the Wigan defence to ground in the corner. Tommy Makinson smacked his touchline conversion through the uprights for 6-14, game on.
On the next set Jonny Lomax picked up a tapped back kick from the fingertips of Makinson to stoop low to the ground and dive in from ten metres out. Makinson again added the conversion and there were just two points between the sides.
Saints were in front on fifty-six, James Roby scything his way through the Wigan defence to stretch for the line and ground one-handed above his head. Makinson added the conversion to the third unanswered second half try, Saints four point ahead and with the momentum well and truly on their side.
With eleven minutes remaining Marshall collected a wayward pass twenty from his own line and sprinted eighty minutes to outpace the Saints chasers to score under the sticks to level the scores. Smith added the conversion to edge the Warriors back into a two-point lead.
There were no further scores in a brutal last ten as Wigan held on for the win.
After a great first half for Wigan the second half fightback from Saints was equally good and it was ironic that it was a Saints error, a sloppy pass as they looked to extend their lead, which allowed Marshall a long range try for the winner which put the Warriors into their thirty-third final, looking to raise the trophy aloft for the twentieth time.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson (3G), Hurrell (T), Percival, Simm, Davies, Lomax (T), Walmsley, Roby (T), Lees, Batchelor (SB on 16), Mata´utia, Knowles. Subs: Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Sironen.
Wigan Warriors: Field, Marshall (2T), Thornley, Bibby, French, Cust (T), Smith (2G), Singleton, O´Neill, Byrne, Bateman, Farrell, (T) Smithies. Subs: Mago, Ellis, Havard, Shorrocks.
Score Progression: 0-4, (SB), 0-8, 0-12, 0-14 : HT : 4-14, 6-14, 10-14, 12-14, 16-14, 18-14, 18-18, 18-20 : FT.
Referee: James Child.