Comment: Saints proved their critics wrong

Referee Phil Bentham will never have an easier decision to make.

The red card he showed to Wigan prop Ben Flower after just three minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday night was the only decision he could have made at that point. No ifs, and no buts.

It was a dreadful incident, and I can’t imagine what could have been going through Flower’s head. The first punch that floored Hohaia and left him apparently unconscious was worth a dismissal. But the second punch, delivered when Hohaia was lying on the ground with his eyes closed, was worth much more than a mere dismissal.

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And, with the Greater Manchester Police apparently contemplating whether to charge Flower with assault, the result could indeed go far beyond what we would normally expect, which would be a grade F charge of punching with a possible eight-match suspension.

My guess is that a twelve-match suspension is what Flower is likely to end up with from the RFL. I would prefer the Police to leave the incident for the RFL to deal with, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if they didn’t.

It’s very hard to fully understand how much damage that single incident did to Rugby League’s image.

It was like being back in the old days, when some newspapers liked nothing more than to portray Rugby League players as thugs.


The only worse incident I can recall was Jim Mills stamping on New Zealand prop John Greengrass’ face at Swansea in a match that was part of the World Cup in 1975. That incident occurred when Greengrass had just scored a try, and it soured relations between the RFL and the New Zealand Rugby League for some time afterwards.

Big Jim was given a six-month suspension by the RFL and the Kiwis banned him from playing in New Zealand for life.

Eventually Mills and Greengrass were reconciled when the New Zealander visited this country in 2008, 33 years after that incident.

Lance Hohaia has already been conciliatory in his response to Flower.
He isn’t holding a grudge, despite having missed virtually the entire match.

Fortunately he was able to take his place alongside his team-mates for the post-match celebrations.

Of course many people will say that Wigan would have won the game if they hadn’t been reduced to twelve men. But I’m not convinced by that argument.

Let’s not forget that Hohaia, as a playmaker, was almost certainly a bigger loss to St Helens than Flower was to Wigan.

Ben Flower

For the first half of the game at least St Helens looked to me like a ship without a rudder. Unlike Wigan, their play lacked any fluency, mainly because of Hohaia’s absence, which had forced a reorganisation on them. Wigan passed the ball far more than St Helens did and looked far more threatening.

Fortunately for them, Saints had some players who stood up to the mark in the second half. I don’t like to single out individuals too much, but their key players as I saw it were captain Paul Wellens, winger Tommy Makinson, workaholic James Roby and their departing forward Sia Soliola.

Soliola brought Saints back into the game when he forced his way over from a Roby pass after 53 minutes.

Four minutes later Makinson pulled off an extraordinary trysaving tackle on Liam Farrell when the Wigan star looked certain to score after he had turned Makinson inside out.

And a few minutes later Makinson jumped to take a superb Wellens bomb, beating Matty Bowen and Matty Smith to the ball, and touched it down amid scenes of great joy among the Saints fans behind the posts and from the Saints players.

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Those were highly significant contributions to Saints’ victory by Makinson, and it’s why I voted for him to receive the Harry Sunderland Trophy as the outstanding player in the game. Even if he had done nothing else throughout the 80 minutes, those two elements of the game were massive for St Helens.

I warned in last week’s issue of this newspaper that Wigan couldn’t take victory for granted, unlike my colleague Garry Schofield, who stuck his neck out for Wigan in typical Garry style.

It wasn’t a wonderful open game of the sort we used to expect from a St Helens victory.

But in terms of drama and atmosphere, and the sheer size of the occasion, you would have to go a long way to see something bigger.