Liam Marshall the star as Wigan Warriors turn the tables on St Helens

You would have had to go a long way to witness a more exciting Challenge Cup semi-final than this one on Saturday.

Never has a game illustrated so well the old cliché about a game of two halves.

St Helens came into the game as the hot favourites but, as I suggested last week, Wigan looked remarkably good value for the odds that were being quoted by the sponsors Betfred.

And so it proved, but only after a remarkable second-half comeback by Saints.

Wigan have pace to burn, while St Helens are capable of building pressure on their opponents like no other team in Super League.

Most of the attention that is paid to Wigan focuses on their two Aussie speed men Bevan French and Jai Field. And yet on this occasion it was Liam Marshall who emphasised the fact that Wigan’s threat of blinding pace is three-pronged and it was his two tries that made the difference especially of course the winning try when he picked up a loose ball and sprinted away to score just when it had begun to look as though Wigan wouldn’t be able to recover from an 18-14 deficit after those three quickfire second-half tries by St Helens.

The Wigan supporters in the crowd must have had their emotional stability severely tested throughout the eighty minutes – arriving with hope, feeling excitement after their first try, ecstasy after their third, concern when Konrad Hurrell scored Saints’ first try, despair when James Roby scored their third, resignation when Wigan kept giving penalties away for offside after Roby’s try, disbelief and elation when Marshall picked up the ball to score, fear of retribution by St Helens during the last ten minutes of the game, relief and disbelief when the final hooter went and a wonderful sense of anticipation when the victory began to sink in.

Wigan, alongside Huddersfield, will now make history by becoming the first club to contest a Challenge Cup Final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 28 May. That certainly is something to anticipate and I’m sure the Wigan fans will enjoy the month of May.

St Helens fans, of course, will have felt the opposite of those emotions as the game unfolded, although their team played its part in a wonderful event.

They were still lacking their own speedster in Regan Grace, while they were also missing Will Hopoate and Lewis Dodd, meaning that their replacements, Josh Simm and Ben Davies, were thrust into a massive game and were severely tested by their opponents.

It’s funny how an early mistake in a game often gives a pointer to its eventual outcome, perhaps because it has a subconscious effect on a team’s confidence.

When Simm dropped a Wigan bomb with less than two minutes on the clock, it immediately put his side under pressure and the Warriors were able to take advantage with some great play for the first try, with Jake Bibby doing a great job in drawing the defence, going on the outside of Jack Welsby and giving Marshall the ball with a sniff of the line, with the winger diving spectacularly to touch down just inside the touchline. It was a dream start for the Warriors and, in contrast to St Helens, you could see the confidence surge through the Wigan’s players’ veins.

It continued to grow throughout the second half and by the time Liam Farrell scored Wigan’s third try, it seemed as though the Rugby League world was turning upside down.

But confidence is a quality that can evaporate as quickly as it came.

It took Konrad Hurrell less than seven second-half minutes to get St Helens on the scoreboard and ten minutes later, with Roby’s try, Saints were four points ahead.

Wigan were looking shaky and it would have been easy to imagine them crumblling.

It was then that Jai Field demonstrated his value to Wigan defensively.

First, he stole the ball from Joe Batchelor in a crucial position.

Then, he pulled off a potentially match winning tackle on Joey Lussick. If he hadn’t done that, Saints might have scored again and sealed victory.

Field has surely been the player of the Rugby League season so far, even though the glory in this game fell to Liam Marshall.

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