Long and Sculthorpe win epic battle of half-backs

Saint Helens 31 Hull FC 26

A late drop goal and try from Paul Sculthorpe decided a classic Powergen Challenge Cup quarter-final yesterday after Hull had threatened to win at Knowsley Road for the first time in 16 years.

A late drop goal and try from Paul Sculthorpe decided a classic Powergen Challenge Cup quarter-final yesterday after Hull had threatened to win at Knowsley Road for the first time in 16 years.

Saints twice had to dig themselves out of a double-figure deficit in a game which, amid all its all-round excellence, boiled down to an enthralling duel between two inspired scrum-halves.

If Richard Horne was the dominant figure for more than half the match, it was Sean Long and his half-back partner, Sculthorpe, who had the last laugh.

Horne was largely responsible for Hull taking a 14-2 lead, his wonderful run setting up Shaun Briscoe for their first try, before Briscoe returned the compliment to allow Horn the opportunity to dart over for Hull's second of the game.

It was a perfect start, but a long way from being a convincing lead against a team with the conviction and heart of Saints. Long gave the first warning of the impact he was to have when he drew the defence and lofted a pass out for Jason Hooper to score.

When Kirk Yeaman rushed in for an interception to leave Sculthorpe with a gap, Hooper's second and Long's fourth goal put Saints in front. Immediately before half-time, Horne was weaving his magic again, turning a pass inside for Richie Barnett Snr to come racing through.

They scored again at the start of the second half, Briscoe timing his run to reach Horne's cleverly weighted little kick, and Paul Cooke's fifth goal giving Hull a 10-point lead.

That was when Long turned up the heat. He threw a tremendous pass out for Willie Talau and was then there in support to take the return from the New Zealander and score. Next, he was stopped just short of the try line after another incisive run, only for the sheer power of Keiron Cunningham to force the ball down when Hull thought they had held him up.

The scores were level with almost half an hour to play, but it was always Saints who looked the more capable of building the sort of pressure that would eventual decide the semi-final place.

Horne and Cooke missed with hurried drop goal attempts before Sculthorpe put one over with what seemed to be time to spare. "He had time for a cup of tea and a biscuit,'' the Hull coach, Shaun McRae, said.

Hull refused to bow to the inevitable and tried everything they knew to seize back the initiative, but they were finally beaten when Sculthorpe reached over from dummy half with less than two minutes remaining.

St Helens: Wellens; Albert, Hooper, Talau, Feaunati; Sculthorpe, Long; Fozzard, Cunningham, Mason, Gilmour, Edmondson, Joynt. Substitutes used: Gardner, Higham, Bibey, Wilkin.

Hull: Briscoe; Best, Barnett Snr, Yeaman, Barnett Jnr; Cooke, Horne, Dowes, Swain, King, McNicholas, McMenemy, Lupton. Subtitutes used: Chester, Higgins, Carvell, Whiting.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).

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