Hardman delights Millward

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Challenge Cup finalists St Helens and Wigan warmed up for their Millennium Stadium meeting next Saturday with contrasting home wins, while table-toppers Leeds and form side Hull were the other winners on a busy Friday night in the Tetley's Super League.

Challenge Cup finalists St Helens and Wigan warmed up for their Millennium Stadium meeting next Saturday with contrasting home wins, while table-toppers Leeds and form side Hull were the other winners on a busy Friday night in the Tetley's Super League.

Saints rested skipper Paul Sculthorpe and almost paid the penalty as they scraped to a 26-20 victory over a plucky Wakefield at Knowsley Road. Youngster Ian Hardman grabbed the crucial score in the final quarter, but the Yorkshiremen almost stole a point when winger Semi Tadulala was bundled into touch by Jason Hooper a yard short in the dying seconds.

The St Helens coach, Ian Millward, reckoned the tough hit-out provided his side with the best possible preparation for the final. "It was good to have such a physical game so close to the final," he said. "We didn't get any injuries and go into the final having lost only one game this year. I will pick 19 on Monday, but I already know my first 13. The only problem is deciding on the last four for the bench."

Wigan's coach, Mike Gregory, was equally delighted with his team's final run-out as they made it five wins in a row to climb into the top half of the table with a 26-8 triumph over Widnes at the JJB Stadium. Winger David Hodgson marked his comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon with a try but, on the downside, Quentin Pongia was put on report for a suspect tackle on Deon Bird and fellow prop Terry O'Connor went off with a chest injury.

Gregory said O'Connor was rested as a precaution, and insisted he was confident that Pongia would not face disciplinary action. "We have had a look at the incident and we don't think he has a case to answer," he said. "It wasn't a swinging arm or high."

Gregory was also delighted by the try-scoring return of Hodgson, who is set to claim a place at Cardiff after ending his three-month lay-off. "Getting that first game under his belt means that he is now in contention and gives me a selection headache," he said.

Leeds bounced back from their 56-10 hammering at St Helens with a hard-fought 23-10 win over Warrington in the rain at Headingley. Two tries from Marcus Bai helped ensure the Rhinos maintained a three-point lead at the top of the table.

While Warrington drop out of the top six for the first time, Hull climbed to third with a 20-0 win at Huddersfield, who had scrum-half Paul March and skipper Darren Fleary sin-binned late in the game.

Hull overcame atrocious conditions and rode their luck to establish a 14-0 interval lead courtesy of tries from Paul McNicholas and Richard Whiting, and defended magnificently to keep their line intact despite sustained attacking throughout the second half from the Giants.

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