St Helens kept alive their semi-final hopes in the most dramatic fashion with a nail-biting 18-16 victory at Wakefield.
They looked to have perished in their do-or-die Super 8s clash after trailing for 77 minutes but makeshift centre Jonny Lomax came up with the all-important try that levelled the scores and Mark Percival won it with the conversion.
St Helens moved up to fifth after halting their three-match losing run but they are now only a point behind Trinity, whose own semi-final hopes are now also hanging by a thread.
The outcome was tough on Wakefield winger Bill Tupou who scored two first-half tries, including a scintillating 90-metre effort with his pace leaving behind St Helens’ new marquee signing Ben Barba, to put his side into a 12-6 lead.
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook gambled big by leaving out experienced pair Matty Smith and Kyle Amor, reuniting young half-backs Theo Fages and Danny Richardson and handing a debut to 19-year-old prop Matty Lees.
Fages and Richardson had been instrumental in Saints’ big win at Belle Vue in the last match of the regular season but this time they met their match in Jacob Miller and Liam Finn while Wakefield managed to nullify the attacking threat of Barba.
Wakefield, who had lively hooker Tyler Randell on home debut, drew first blood when Scott Grix’s chip over the Saints defence caused all sorts of panic and the ball bounced kindly for Tupou to grab his first try on 11 minutes.
Finn struck the woodwork with his conversion attempt but increased his side’s lead to 6-0 with a penalty midway through the first half.
Saints drew level when Richardson followed up his own 40-20 kick with a neat pass to get substitute forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook crashing over for a try, which Percival converted, but Trinity dominated the second quarter.
They regained the lead with Tupou’s 90-metre effort which rewarded Wakefield’s enterprise in counter-attacking from deep and Matty Ashurst and Dean Hadley also went desperately close to adding further tries before the break, when the home side led 12-6.
Wakefield were forced to defend with 12 men for a spell when Hadley was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Percival early in the second half but Miller took some time out with a couple of neat kicks to touch and Finn increased the lead with a penalty.
St Helens increasingly relied on prop Alex Walmsley for making inroads into Wakefield’s tightly-knit defence and it was he who provided the pass for Fages to glide over for their second try in the 63rd minute.
Percival’s second conversion cut the gap to two points but Finn doubled it after 69 minutes with a third penalty for a ball steal by Saints captain Jon Wilkin and crucially hit an upright for the second time with another attempt.
That gave the visitors hope and they made the most of it in a dramatic finish. Percival’s kick to the line deceived both his winger Regan Grace and full-back Grix and Lomax followed up to get the decisive touch.
The try, awarded by the video referee, levelled the scores and Percival maintained his composure to land the winning goal.