Long haul keeps Saints on track

Warrington 14 St Helens 36
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The Independent Online

St Helens recovered from a shaky start at Wilderspool to keep alive their hopes of retaining the Kellogg's Nutrigrain Challenge Cup.

Although they struggled through much of the first half, two tries shortly before the break, both featuring prominent contributions from Sean Long, showed that they will be devilishly difficult to keep away from the big occasion at Murrayfield.

Warrington, 66-1 for the Cup, started off by looking anything but rank outsiders. Moving the ball with purpose, they scored from their first spell of pressure, with two of their new players combining. Matt Rodwell kicked through precisely and the Papua New Guinean Tom O'Reilly won the race to touch down and give the Wolves an ideal start. It got better still when Lee Briers added the goal and then put over a penalty after Chris Joynt had gone high on Paul Marquet. Kieron Cunningham got over the line for Saints but was held up by force of numbers as Warrington's defence negated their efforts to get back in the game.

Playing into a strong wind did not help but the Cup holder's handling was just not up to its usual standards. It took a Warrington mistake and a hair's breath decision in Saints' favour to get them moving. The Wolves had a chance on the right flank, but Lee Penny's pass to Rob Smyth went to ground. John Stankevitch's run gave Saints the position to attack and Paul Sculthorpe's pass out of the tackle launched Paul Wellens at the line. Briers brought him down but the St Helens full-back twisted his way over, his touchdown being ruled valid after lengthy inspection by the video referee.

Five minutes before half-time – and against the tide – Saints took the lead. Warrington's trouble began when Briers fielded Tommy Martyn's kick and was bundled behind his own try line. From Warrington's drop-out Saints mounted an attack, Sean Hoppe taking Sculthorpe's pass and cutting inside to give the final delivery to Long.

Long, in his first major game since making a comeback after knee surgery, added the goal and matters got a lot worse for Warrington before the break. Briers was carried off in obvious pain from a leg injury and Sculthorpe and Long handled for Wellens to score Saints' third try.

That should have been the end of the fun and games for Warrington. Seven minutes into the second half, Martyn charged down O'Reilly's kick and regathered to send Hoppe in and Saints were in the clear.

Warrington showed resilience when Rodwell's pass put Marquet in, but immediately after Dale Laughton and Mark Edmondson had been sent to the sin-bin for a skirmish, Saints opened Warrington up again, Hoppe sending Tony Stewart striding away.

The conversion and a penalty for holding on in the tackle edged Long towards his final tally of six goals. There was no way back now for Warrington, although a side with so many newcomers should improve as the season goes on.

Saints finished with a spectacular try set up by their impressive young centre, Martin Gleeson, for Mike Higham. By the end they definitely had that Edinburgh-bound look about them.

Warrington: Briers; Smyth, Penny, Domic, Kidwell; O'Reilly, Rodwell; Laughton, Clarke, Hilton, Marquet, Busby, Burns. Substitutes: Crouthers, Sturm, Wood, Felton.

St Helens: Wellens; Stewart, Gleeson, Hoppe, Albert; Martyn, Long; Britt, Cunningham, Shiels, Joynt, Stankevitch, Sculthorpe. Substitutes: West, Higham, Jonkers, Edmondson.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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