10:50am Thursday 17th February 2011
By Mike Critchley
ALL those bleak midwinter days being flogged on Taylor Park hill by conditioner Matt Daniels bore fruit for Saints on Saturday night.
Superior fitness, combined with some sheer guts and determination not to lose their unbeaten record at the Millennium Stadium, helped Royce Simmons’ men grab a point against the defending champions.
Saints looked dead and buried at the hour mark when they trailed 16-0 despite having enjoyed lengthy spells in which they had thrown everything at a seemingly impenetrable Wigan line.
But inspired by a top drawer performance from James Roby - a player who is looking surpass the high benchmark he set himself last term – Saints dug in and reaped their rewards.
Roby’s non-stop display was a highlight of the 80 minutes and he was given good support from Scott Moore, who offered occasional relief from the dummy half duties.
Twice England hooker Roby was over the line – and on the first occasion was only foiled by Wigan full back Sam Tomkins planting his size 11s underneath the ball.
It was the former Blackbrook junior’s twisting, turning run and exquisite offload that led to Saints’ first try scored by eagerly supporting Jon Wilkin.
At the time only the strongest of die-hards among the small pocket of Saints fans, nestled ’twixt the hordes of Warriors and Wires, saw that score as being little more than a consolation.
Wilkin, too, impressed and he ran some good lines and showed some nice touches with the ball when given the freedom to operate from the loose forward berth.
The forwards, generally, were the pick of the bunch with the sharp tilts at the line from a rejuvenated Sia Soliola providing Saints with some real aggression and impact.
Up front Tony Puletua showed a couple of deft touches slipping passes like popping peas from a pod and effortlessly seemed to see off four would-be tacklers to claim the second try that really put Saints back in the game.
With the bit between their teeth – an all too rare piece of fluency along the back line yielded the equalising score with Francis Meli touching down in the corner.
The performance of the Saints attack was a little scratchy to say the least – but maybe that is understandable given the absence of Leon Pryce.
It meant that Gary Wheeler, who has been primed in the off-season to play centre, partnered fit again Kyle Eastmond at half back.
After missing most of the back end of 2010 with ankle ligament injuries, which required two off-season operations, Eastmond was maybe understandably not on his mettle.
That mitigation can wash for a week or two – but the young scrum half’s performances are now under the microscope, not least because of the speculation over his future.
The young Oldhamer stood too deep at first receiver, occasionally made the wrong choices with the ball and failed to really get a grip of the game.
Eastmond had the chance to win the game with the last kick off the game after Saints hoofed a penalty downfield after the final hooter.
Saints were no longer up against the clock at this stage and maybe should have composed themselves a bit better to allow Eastmond or Jamie Foster a slot directly in front of the posts.
Instead, one pass out from the tap Eastmond found the angle a little too acute and pulled it wide to ensure that the spoils were shared, with Saints seeing that as a point reclaimed.
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