Huddersfield 12 St Helens 42: Long puts stamp on St Helens' triumph

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The Independent Online

It would be too easy at first glance to assume from this scoreline that Huddersfield failed to keep their side of the bargain in the Powergen Challenge Cup final here on Saturday.

Not a bit of it. For 50 minutes the Giants were very nearly as good as they had been in their memorable semi-final victory over Leeds; it was not their fault that in the end they had no answer to the sheer quality of St Helens.

Forced by Huddersfield's skill and resolution in the first half to produce their full repertoire of accomplishments, Saints duly did so, producing a brand of rugby with which no side in the British game could have lived. This was Saints at their captivating best and, as the Huddersfield coach Jon Sharp argued afterwards, there was no disgrace in ultimately being blown away by them.

"They decided to leave out two internationals. I've got two internationals in my side and that's indicative of the scale of the task," he said. "But I thought we represented the town and the club magnificently."

Sean Long won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match for the third time in four finals. That is a historic achievement, but Long did not have his most glittering match from a purely individual angle, although he finished a marvellous move for one try and set up another with a sublime piece of skill. His hallmark was the way he quietly controlled everything. His coach, Daniel Anderson, repeatedly used the word "maturity" to describe his performance and it was a well-chosen one.

On another day, Jon Wilkin could easily have carried off the individual award. Despite breaking his nose in an early clash of heads with his team-mate, Paul Anderson - "That's his modelling career on hold," said Daniel Anderson - Wilkin was a bundle of irrepressible energy all afternoon.

"He [Paul Anderson] mis-took me for one of the Huddersfield players," said Wilkin. "He caught me pretty high. He's clumsy like that, so I'm used to it. They stuffed cotton wool up my nose and the blood was trickling down my throat so I couldn't get my breath. I've got a bit of a hernia so I'm on pain killers and they were still working. It was just after the game it hurt when the doctor was trying to put it back in place. But the effects of the champagne were numbing it."

Wilkin scored two tries, contributed to another couple and showed his mean streak with two ferocious tackles on Stuart Donlan, the latter of which saw him placed on report.

"Wilko's awesome, a real team player," said Long, and it was that team ethos that dominated Saints' analysis of what they had achieved with their fifth Cup win in the 11 years of Super League.

Anderson decided his team early in the week and got it exactly right. So, too, did Jamie Lyon, whose 18 points took him within two of the Cup final record. It would be a shame, though, if Huddersfield's contribution were to be forgotten under the camouflage of a 30-point losing margin.

With Brad Drew leading from the front they ripped into Saints from the start and were arguably the better side for the first half and, if they had gone back into the lead from Wayne McDonald's break in the 27th minute, the story of their first Challenge Cup final for 44 years might just have been very different.

"You've got to finish your opportunities against the best defensive side in Super League," Sharp said. "History shows that if you don't they come back to hurt you." Huddersfield finished the afternoon knowing just how true that observation is. They were hurt, but by no means embarrassed.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Wilkin, Sculthorpe, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Graham, Gilmour, Fa'asavalu.

Huddersfield: Reilly; Aspinwall, Nero, De Vere, Donlan; Thorman, Paul; Jackson, Drew, Gannon, Crabtree, Raleigh, Wild. Substitutes used: Snitch, Jones, Smith, McDonald.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).