Eastmond electrifies Saints

St Helens 15 Huddersfield 2
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The Independent Online

Formats may come and formats may go, but the cream still rises to the top in Super League and St Helens followed Leeds in making serene progress towards another Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Without being back to their sparkling best, they always looked more likely than Huddersfield to earn a weekend off in the next round of the play-offs. The Giants, who never threatened to repeat their Challenge Cup semi-final victory, get a second chance next week, when Nathan Brown is unlikely to tinker with his team anything like as much as he did here.

Both coaches reshuffled extensively and it was Saints, coming off four defeats in their last five matches, who settled first. There was a hint of desperation about the way Liam Fulton, who had been switched to hooker by the Giants, tried to keep the ball alive after only two minutes. All he succeeded in doing was giving it to Tony Puletua, who went 40 metres for the game's first try.

Brett Hodgson, who has been outstanding at full-back for Huddersfield all season, was finding it hard to create space at stand-off, but he did kick a penalty. It was an isolated success. Paul Jackson lost the ball, Kyle Eastmond was held up over the line and Leon Pryce scythed through to score. Hodgson's subsequent attempts to find a gap only conceded a penalty for offside, which Saints exploited with Eastmond's electrifying little burst and Francis Meli's finish.

Huddersfield could have got back into the game, had it not been for Paul Wellens' tackle to wrap up Eorl Crabtree and Stephen Wild's knock on from Luke Robinson's pass. Sean Long missed with a drop-goal before the interval, but Saints looked secure.

Their own lack of any rhythm was underlined by another botched drop-goal from Long; the closest the visitors came was with a dash from Fulton that came to nothing. Long got his drop-goal 10 minutes from time – his persistence was a tribute to Huddersfield's defence. To progress any further, however, they will have to rediscover their attacking spark.

Brown said: "We just weren't good enough on the night. But we have some good players available again next week."

Saints' Mick Potter knew that his side were not firing on all cylinders. "But I thought our defence was some of our best of the season," he said.

In the elimination play-off at Belle Vue, the Catalans Dragons beat Wakefield 25-16. The French-based side will now play Huddersfield on Friday in the first preliminary semi-final.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Gidley, Eastmond, Meli; Pryce, Long; Graham, Cunningham, Puletua, Wilkin, Flannery, Gilmour. Substitutes used: Hargreaves, Roby, Clough, Fa'asavalu.

Huddersfield: Cudjoe; Aspinwall, Lawrence, Finnigan, D Hodgson; B Hodgson, Robinson; Sculthorpe, Fulton, Jackson, Wild, Raleigh, Whatuira. Substitutes used: Crabtree, Griffin, Lunt, Patrick.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).