Bradford 54 St Helens 22

Millward prefers to err on side of caution
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Bradford went back to the top of Super League last night, but will regard this as something of a hollow victory over a side with virtually all their first-choice stars wrapped in cotton wool for next Saturday's Challenge Cup final. Saints' coach, Ian Millward, carried out his threat to omit anyone less than 100 per cent fit.

At a generous estimate, only five or six of last night's team are likely to be involved in the Murrayfield final, and those filling the holes included teenagers making their debutsand two forwards, Paul Southern and Dave Whittle, on loan as short-term stand-ins. As if that was not enough, a number were in unfamiliar positions against a Bradford side ominously close to full strength and not noted for dealing gently with below-par opposition.

The inevitable began to unfold after a mere 30 seconds, when James Lowes sent Lesley Vainikolo barrelling over on the wing. After that start, though, Bradford looked more disorientated by the mismatch than their opponents and allowed them an unlikely equaliser. It came when John Braddish, recalled from loan at Oldham for his Saints debut, hoisted a high kick and Mark Edmondson managed to scramble it back for John Kirkpatrick to score.

That seemed to be the wake-up call the Bulls needed, because they scored three tries in quick succession from Lee Gilmour, chasing Robbie Paul's little kick, Jamie Peacock and Mike Forshaw, finishing off a break by Vainikolo.

The visitors boosted their spirits when Darren Albert, a cup final certainty, intercepted Paul Deacon's loose pass and went 80 yards with no one bothering to chase him. Braddish's second goal cut the gap to a modest 10 points, but Tevita Vaikona's try just before half-time made sure that Bradford were comfortably in front of Saints' irregulars.

You could not fault Saints' ragbag of old, new, borrowed and increasingly black and blue for effort, but they could not be expected to hold back the tide in the second half, as Peacock cut them apart to set up a try for Scott Naylor and Vaikona claimed his second by jumping above the young substitute Chris Giles.

Vaikona's great strength kept him inside the corner flag despite a two-man tackle to register his hat-trick try soon after, and when Stuart Fielden smashed his way through, the Saints defence began to look exhausted. They belied that impression by grabbing a third try when Ade Gardner pounced on Braddish's kick. Gardener also supplied the pass for Kirkpatrick's second try as the Saints reserves continued to acquit themselves well, even though Bradford finished with a Paul try.

That took the Bulls over the half-century mark, which perhaps did the patched-up Saints a little less than justice. It is to be hoped that the club provide them with good seats at Murrayfield.

Bradford: Pryce; Vaikona, Naylor, Gilmour, Vainikolo; Paul, Deacon; Vagana, Lowes, McDermott, Forshaw, Peacock, Costin. Substitutes used: McAvoy, Radford, Fielden, Anderson.

St Helens: Wellens; Albert, West, Stankevitch, Kirkpatrick; Higham, Braddish; Nickle, Southern, Whittle, Edmondson, Bennett, Ward. Substitutes used: Simms, Giles, Gardner, McConnell.

Referee: I Smith (Oldham).