Wakefield Wildcats bounced back from their 58-16 drubbing at Widnes Vikings by going close to inflicting champions St Helens’ first defeat of the season.
The Wildcats led 12-6 at half-time in Friday’s Super League clash at the Rapid Solicitors Stadum but were eventually pipped 20-16 as Saints maintained their 100 per cent record.
The Wildcats slipped to a second successive defeat but restored their pride with a much improved performance.
In the end, they were made to pay for missed chances.
St Heles lost three players to injury in the space of six minutes midway through the first half which left them with one fit substitute for the remaining 55 minutes but they show true grit and determination to get the edge.,
St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham opted to revert to a half-back pairing of Jon Wilkin and Paul Wellens, with a combined age of 65, and it was looking good when Wellens made the most of a break by Jonny Lomax to score the game’s first try.
Mark Percival added the goal to make it 6-0 and Saints ought to have increased their lead when Wilkin sent Tom Makinson away but the winger held onto the ball with three team-mates unmarked on his outside, before being recalled for a forward pass shortly afterwards.
Wakefield equalised against the run of play when stand-off Jacob Miller produced a lovely pick-up to get loose forward Matty Ashurst over for a try which Craig Hall goaled.
Saints were already without full-back Lomax, who was hurt going up for a high ball, and they lost forward Luke Thompson with concussion following a clash with team-mate Mose Masoe and Percival with a knee injury in the space of two minutes.
As play swung from end to end, Miller and St Helens second rower Joe Greenwood both spilled chances before Wakefield centre Reece Lyne put his side in front for the first time six minutes before half-time.
The former Hull man set up the scoring position with an interception and he got on the end of full-back Craig Hall’s pass to touch down, with Hall kicking his second goal to make it 12-6.
The Wildcats twice went close to increasing their lead within five minutes of the restart, with Lyne and winger Chris Riley having tries disallowed, and the misses soon began to look costly.
Prop forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, forced into the role of makeshift centre for the third time so far this year, swooped on a loose pass and went 50 metres upfield to set up the position for their second try, with Greenwood going through the scattered defence on the next play.
Makinson kicked the conversion to level the scores and put over a penalty on 50 minutes to restore his side’s lead and they strengthened their grip four minutes later when Wakefield failed to clear the danger caused by Wilkin’s high kick and centre Jordan Turner pounced on the loose ball.
Makinson’s third goal opened up an eight-point lead but Wakefield winger Richard Owen gave his side renewed hope 11 minutes from the end when he finished off some smart work from his centre Dean Collis.