Hull KR 0 St Helens 50: Wilkin crushes upstarts' rising

Dream is over for outsiders put firmly back in their place
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The Independent Online

Jon Wilkin showed his old club that the romance of the Challenge Cup is no match for the harsh reality of a gulf in class. Wilkin scored two tries and could have had another against the team he left as an 18-year-old, and still supports, as he helped the likes of Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long to run the Robins ragged.

"I was proud to see them here today, but as a professional I'm delighted that St Helens are in another Challenge Cup final," Wilkin said. "It was always my job to get the win."

A year ago Saints lost a semi on this ground to Hull, but yesterday their neighbours had the misfortune to meet them in a much more businesslike mood. "We were very motivated to defend our line and be clinical and effective across the park," said the Saints coach, Daniel Anderson, who was at least as pleased with the zero as the fifty in the one-sided scoreline.

Hull KR might be unbeaten in National League One this season and might have taken the scalp of Warrington in unforgettable fashion in the quarter-finals, but they had no answer to a Saints side with their eyes firmly fixed on Twickenham.

The game was often a physical mismatch, with Saints' big forwards battering their opposite numbers from the start. Rovers were not helped by a spate of injuries, which began when Jason Netherton and Byron Ford clashed heads in the very first minute. "It's hard enough without wiping each other out," said a rueful Justin Morgan, the Robins coach.

Within another minute Saints were ahead, Paul Anderson cleverly getting the ball out of the tackle to Cunningham and Long arriving on his shoulder in support with perfect timing.

Both sides had a try disallowed before Wilkin struck for the first time, pouncing after Long's kick had hit a post. Six minutes later he was over again, this time capitalising on Jason Cayless's skilful offload. "He said that's what he was going to do. You have to put yourself in the position to score tries and he put himself in position," said Anderson of his unsentimental second-rower.

A period of intense pressure ended with Vinnie Anderson angling through for a fourth converted try and a commanding half-time lead.

Although Saints started the second half a little slowly, Jamie Lyon took Long's pass for a try to go with his seven goals six minutes after the interval. That ushered in Rovers' best period of the match, with the busy Tommy Gallagher held just short and the ever-alert Wilkin clearing from David Tangata-Toa's kick. Saints clicked back into gear when the official man of the match, Willie Talau, scored his first try from a short ball delivered by Leon Pryce.

Lyon, Pryce and a lovely fingertip pass from Lee Gilmour then set up the Kiwi centre for a quick second, before a sumptuous solo from Paul Wellens, weaving around some weary Hull KR defenders, rounded off the scoring.

By that time, Rovers were without Gareth Morton and their captain and playmaker, James Webster, after he became another cut-head victim.

"We were beaten by a bigger, faster, stronger side," Webster said. "We really struggled with injuries, but all credit to them." However Anderson, the Saints coach, stressed: "I don't think it was easy. Hull KR were still sticking it to us right to the 80 minutes. To play St Helens in the mood we were in is a learning curve for them."

To play St Helens in this frame of mind would be a lesson for most teams, which is why Morgan had no hesitation in tipping them to win at Twickenham on 26 August.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; P Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Wilkin, V Anderson, Graham. Substitutes used: Roby, Fozzard, Gilmour, Faíasavalu.

Hull KR: Cockayne; Steel, Couturier, Goddard, Ford; Morton, Webster; Aizue, Fisher, Tangata-Toa, Morrison, Netherton, Gallagher. Substitutes used: Joseph, Rivett, Garmston, Barker.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).