These are the nights for Widnes that could prove to be season-defining. So often this year Super League’s bottom side have battled their way through games without anything to show for it – which is why, midway through the regular season, they had only one victory to their name before this encounter.
They appeared at times intent on inflicting another defeat on themselves here. There were moments of trepidation –plenty of them, in fact. The Vikings should have been out of sight against a fatigued and out-of-sorts St Helens side by half-time but were level, and with 10 minutes remaining, they trailed, staring down the barrel of; a ninth defeat in 11 loomed.
However, Patrick Ah Van’s late try could perhaps transform the complexity of their campaign. Widnes were seemingly destined for the qualifiers – they may still be – but on a night where they could have fallen seven points adrift of the top eight, the Vikings are now only four shy. Perhaps the great escape is on after all.
“It’s frustrating because you saw in the first half that we completed really well and got great field position, then we got anxious,” said the Widnes coach, Denis Betts. “We can build on this with confidence now, but that was hard work.”
St Helens have now beaten the league leaders, Castleford, and lost to the bottom side within four days. That is perhaps symptomatic of their season to date, and as they look for a new coach following the dismissal of Keiron Cunningham last week, inconsistency continues to plague a side who could fall into the bottom four this weekend.
“We just weren’t good enough tonight, that’s as simple as it is,” said Jamahl Lolesi, one-third of the St Helens coaching team. “We’ve been working hard all year but we gave them a game-plan and we’re disappointed we couldn’t execute it better.”
That the two sides were level at half-time was almost inexplicable given Widnes’ dominance. They led on two separate occasions when Joe Mellor and Ah Van crossed, but a number of missed opportunities allowed the Saints to make it 12-12 via Théo Fages and Matty Smith.
When Mark Percival made it 14-12 to Saints with a penalty, it looked set to be a familiar story for the home side. However, they defended admirably in the closing stages, held firm and, with nine minutes left Ah Van finished a sweeping move to seal victory: and perhaps get Widnes’ season finally back on track.
Widnes Hanbury; Thompson, Bridge, Runciman, Ah Van; Mellor, Gilmore; Dudson, Johnstone, Buchanan, Houston, Dean, Gerrard. Interchange Whitley, Burke, Chapelhow, Walker.
Tries Mellor, Ah Van 2. Goals Gilmore 2.
St Helens Bailey; Swift, Fleming, Percival, Grace; Fages, Smith; Richards, Lee, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, Thompson.
Interchange McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Walmsley, Peyroux, Knowles.
Tries Fages, Smith. Goals Percival 3
Referee C Campbell.