Miners’ lingering top six hopes disappeared but Pats keep theirs very much alive after this fiercely contested derby.
Six days after claiming the Conference Challenge Cup crown, Miners went down to defeat in this Battle of the Borough rematch as an enthusiastic Wigan St Pats side finally extinguished the home team’s lingering play-off hopes but gave a huge shot in the arm to their own top six ambitions. Despite this early afternoon kick-off on Grand Final day there was no lunchtime drowsiness as both sides played with plenty of intensity and no shortage of apparent dislike for each other, and ultimately it was Pats’ more realistic top six aspirations – coupled with the motivation of a number of their players who had missed out on the previous weekend’s showpiece – which spurred the visitors on to victory.
Miners handed first team debuts to young Declan Flannery and Alliance team stalwart Jason Unsworth with Darryl Kay and Tom Farrimond absent and Liam Coleman injured. Pats made a raft of changes from the final including the resurrection of veteran siege engine Mel Alker on the bench and Jayden Sandford and John McCoy returning in the threequarters.
In overcast autumnal conditions Miners initially continued where they had left off the previous weekend, two tries in the opening quarter giving them an 8-0 lead. After just two minutes’ play Sandford knocked on near his own line and from the scrum the forwards took over, Gary Gittins and Connor Partington sucking the defence in under the posts then the ball worked left where Danny Jackson charged in for the try. Already tempers were fraying with Gittins and Tony Suffolk exchanging more than dirty looks and Jon Chamberlain his usual abrasive self for the visitors, and it was one transgression too many for the Pats’ man who was sin-binned on the quarter hour for taking out Scott O’Brien as the scrum-half chased his own kick. From the penalty Miners took full advantage, stretching the defence left then right where Gittins and Adam Thomason put Andrew Groves in at the corner flag. Miners were getting the bit between their teeth and a sparkling piece of play from Thomason, Groves and Martin Gray almost led to a try for Jimmy Muir only for Sandford to scramble back and intercept at the last. But the visitors were giving as good as they got and they found a way back into the game when Anthony Griffiths’ bomb was spilled and Sandford gathered in to put McCoy over for the try, Brad Smith goaling. The Wigan side cranked up the pressure, old warhorse Alker charging in with the scent of battle in his nostrils, and after Andy Higham had a try disallowed for a forward pass they took the lead when Griffiths spotted some slack marking and slipped through from acting half to score under the posts. Just as at LSV six days earlier though, Miners were destined to go in front with a narrow advantage as they scored in the closing minutes, Pats losing the ball from the restart and the ball moved left where Lee Gittins stepped back inside his marker to touch down, Jonny Youds goaling for 14-12.
Miners made the early running in the second half but without making the breakthrough, and Pats regained the advantage with a try from nothing. Miners were pushing and O’Brien kicked into the Pats’ twenty where Tom Atherton gathered and made good ground down the left before finding the speedster Ryan Smith on half way, who in turn put Brad Hargreaves away to finish off and put the Wigan side four points ahead. Pats began turning the screw, Suffolk and Phil Glover both going close, but the decisive try came when Suffolk, a gadfly nuisance throughout to Miners, charged in and wrestled his way over the whitewash to put his side ten points to the good with fourteen minutes remaining. Miners continued to press with no shortage of effort but a string of penalties conceded, and the exemplary kicking game of Smith, had them struggling to make much headway against a resilient Pats defence who set up a thrilling showdown at top six rivals Egremont next weekend.
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