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ESL Elimination Series Finals
Hull FC 18 v 28 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Ranked as 150/1 outsiders ahead of the start of the play-offs, Wakefield produced the first of four upsets they will need to record if they are to be crowned the 2004 Tetley?s Super League Champions.
And with scrum half Ben Jeffries in inspirational form, and a team spirit and commitment that would test the most hardened of sides, those odds will surely now be slashed ahead of next week?s Elimination Semi Final at either Wigan or St Helens.
Jason Demetriou?s late try sealed an heroic win for Shane McNally?s men, and they will have no fear whoever they face next week.
David March showed tenacity and awareness to scoot over on the last tackle and silence the home crowd inside the first five minutes.
Yet despite that early blow it was Hull who had the better of the opening exchanges, Richard Swain levelling as soon as Ellis had been dispatched by referee Karl Kirkpatrick.
But cheered on by nearly 2,000 travelling supporters, Colum Halpenny got the Wildcats off to the perfect start after the interval. The Australian winger latched onto Jeffries? swirling cross-field kick to bring Shane McNally?s men within touching distance of Hull.
And it got better ten minutes later as first Chris Feather trundled over and then Semi Tadulala leaped for Jeffries? bomb to give Wakefield a 20-14 advantage.
With twenty minutes left Hull were facing the end of their season - and Shaun McRae?s reign at the KC Stadium - unless they could produce two scores to regain the initiative.
Instead, the Wildcats turned the screw further as Paul Handforth booted a penalty with fifteen minutes remaining.
Inevitably, Hull threw everything at Wakefield in the final ten minutes, and Ewan Dowes? burst over the line brought the deficit back to just four points.
But when Demetriou scorched forty metres with four minutes left the Wildcats clinched an historic win and, for now, the Wakefield dream continues.
HULL FC: Briscoe; Best, Yeaman, Whiting, Raynor; Cooke, Lupton; Dowes, Swain, Carvell, Fletcher, McNicholas, McMenemy. SUBS: G Horne, Barnett Jnr, Bailey, Scruton.
WAKEFIELD: M Field; Halpenny, Demetriou, Domic, Tadulala; Ellis, Jeffries; Feather, March, Korkidas, Solomona, MacGillivray, Spicer. SUBS: Griffin, Handforth, Elima, Snitch.
Referee: Karl Kirkpatrick Video Referee: Ian Ollerton Half Time: 14-6 Attendance: 10,550 *************
Wigan 18 v 12 St Helens
Denis Betts? team have not lost at home since July 2003, and they will be hoping that record can continue for one more week in their final home fixture of the season.
Despite having lost seven of their last ten games, St Helens started brightly at the JJB Stadium.
Sean Long, their charismatic scrum half who was widely booed at every opportunity by the home fans, responded to the taunts in style. His three penalties edged Ian Millward?s side 6-0 in front, and it could have been more.
Ian Hardman and Mick Higham both had tries overruled by video referee Steve Cross, while Paul Sculthorpe skewed his drop goal wide.
But Wigan struck back with two tries in three minutes just before the break to swing the momentum into the Warriors? favour.
And when Andy Farrell collected Sean O?Loughlin?s pass soon after the restart, Saints? travelling supporters were silenced into stunned disbelief and left to comtemplate the end of their year.
Wigan?s defence continued to hold firm under heavy scrutiny from the visitors, although at the other end Lam?s two missed drop goal attempts kept St Helens in it - just.
That was enough to keep Saints? spirits high, and they set up a frantic final five minutes when Sculthorpe and Paul Wellens combined to set Ade Gardner free and narrow the deficit to just six points.
But buoyed by the JJB crowd, Wigan kept their composure and will live another day in the race for the 2004 Tetley?s Super League Championship.
WIGAN: Radlinski; Dallas, Brown, Wild, Aspinwall; Orr, Lam; Farrell, Newton, Smith, Hock, Tickle, O?Loughlin. SUBS: Robinson, Connolly, D Sculthorpe, O?Connor.
ST HELENS: Wellens; Albert, Roby, Talau, Hardman; Hooper, Long; Fozzard, Higham, Cunningham, Gilmour, Joynt, P Sculthorpe. SUBS: Gardner, Mason, Edmondson, Wilkin.
Referee: R Smith Video Referee: S Cross Half Time: 12-6 Attendance: 20,052