Wigan coach Matt Peet spoke of his team’s resilience after they overcame a terrific fightback from St Helens to secure a 20-18 victory in their Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final at Elland Road.
Peet’s men dominated the first half of their last-four tie to lead 14-0 thanks to tries from Liam Marshall, Cade Cust and Liam Farrell.
But they looked to be on their way out when holders Saints, completely out of sorts in the first 40 minutes, found a purple patch and ran in three converted tries to go 18-14 in front.
However, Marshall settled a pulsating tie with a spectacular 90-metre try which gives Peet the chance to lead his home-town team out at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 28 in his first season as head coach.
“There are games where you are wondering if the lads are going to turn up when they should win but today I just knew the prize at the end of it was huge,” Peet said.
“I’ve got a lot of trust in the group. There were times where both teams were dominant and it’s credit to the resilience within the group and trust they have in one another.”
Wigan will now prepare for their 33rd Challenge Cup final, chasing a record-extending 20th victory, but Peet says they still have some catching up do on their arch rivals, who have relinquished their grip on the cup but remain in pole position to claim a fourth-successive Super League title.
“You’ve got to judge yourself again the best team and Saints are the best team, so to have a good first half against them means more,” he said.
“They are still the benchmark. It’s going to take years to learn from the benchmark – this game doesn’t change that.
“I’m going to take this in because getting to a final was a big goal for me personally.
“I want us to get like Saints who are expected to be there and anything else is seen as failure but you can only do that one game at a time. It’s only a step but it gives us a taste for it.”
Saints ran in tries through Konrad Hurrell, Jonny Lomax – who defied a bicep injury – and skipper James Roby to put themselves in sight of victory after their disappointing first half but in the end were left to concentrate on the league.
Coach Kristian Woolf said: “It was a real game of two halves. I didn’t think we were quite ourselves in the first half.
“We didn’t have the same intensity and defensive resolve we usually have and it gave us some catching up to do.
“At the end of the day it came down to one play and sometimes you need the bounce of the ball to go your way. Wigan were good enough to take their chance and that’s the way it goes.
“I’m really proud of our effort in the second half. It showed the character in the team and in some ways we were unlucky not to find more points in the second half.
“What we need to do now is just focus and look forward to the Super League competition. We’ve only got one thing to worry about and this means this group will get a break at some stage in the season.”
Woolf insists it was not a risk to play Lomax, who will also line up against Hull next Friday as he continues to defy his bicep injury.
“I was extremely proud of Jonny,” he said. “He was extremely brave. He’s been really diligent and worked extremely hard.
“Not many players could cop the injury and put themselves in a position to play the week after.
“He can’t do any more damage there. The rest of his arm and shoulder is as strong as it can be. He is going to have to manage it and get through the season.
“He is probably a bit hard on himself after the game but I thought he did a really good job over all.”