Bradford eclipse Long's comeback

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The Independent Online

Leeds and Wigan rounded off their Super League campaigns in style by maintaining their unbeaten home records, but reigning champions Bradford sent out a title warning ahead of the Grand Final Series with a 64-24 rout of St Helens to ruin the return, after his long suspension, of Sean Long.

Leeds and Wigan rounded off their Super League campaigns in style by maintaining their unbeaten home records, but reigning champions Bradford sent out a title warning ahead of the Grand Final Series with a 64-24 rout of St Helens to ruin the return, after his long suspension, of Sean Long.

The Bulls ran in 11 tries, three of them from the prolific Lesley Vainikolo, against a weakened Saints side to clinch second place - and with it a week off to freshen themselves up for the play-offs.

They will visit leaders Leeds in the qualifying semi-final in a fortnight, while St Helens face a sudden-death tie with arch-rivals Wigan at the JJB Stadium next Saturday. Hull will take on Wakefield in the other elimination play-off at the KC Stadium next Friday.

Without seven regulars, Saints were no match for the champions, despite the return of Long, who provided some magical moments in his first match for three months. Long sparked a mini-fightback, helping his side level the scores at 10-10 by laying on a try for John Stankevitch and kicking three goals, but the Bulls displayed a ruthless streak to post their second half-century against Saints this year.

Bradford's hero was Vainikolo, whose fifth hat-trick of the season enabled him to set a new Super League record of 36 tries. The immensely powerful Kiwi beat the mark set earlier this season by the Leeds stand-off Danny McGuire to finish top of the chart and earn himself a £1,000 prize.

Fellow winger Stuart Reardon also claimed a hat-trick and scrum-half Paul Deacon finished with 24 points to go into second place in the League list.

Leeds did not need McGuire to see off London Broncos 42-14 at Headingley and complete a 100 per cent home record. Ali Lauititi, Mark Calderwood and Matt Diskin all scored two tries apiece as the Rhinos celebrated their achievement in winning the League Leaders' Shield, while their coach, Tony Smith, insisted there was more to come as they close in on their first championship for 32 years.

"There's more pressure on in the next part, but I really feel there's more to come out of this young team," he said.

"They are still learning and still improving and I think they will continue to get better in these next games. We will make the most of the time between now and Bradford. We can do some hard work and then freshen up ready for the game."

The former England rugby union winger Paul Sampson scored his first try for London, who bade farewell to skipper Jim Dymock and fellow forward Mat Toshack.

Late tries from Kevin Brown and Danny Tickle helped Wigan to a hard-fought 21-16 victory over Warrington that guaranteed them a fourth-place finish.

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