Long joy but Saints short on substance

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The Independent Online

A sixth half-century of the campaign might look healthy enough - and Sean Long broke the points scoring record for a Super League season - but Saints will derive only limited satisfaction from a display that showed them at their worst as well as their best.

A sixth half-century of the campaign might look healthy enough - and Sean Long broke the points scoring record for a Super League season - but Saints will derive only limited satisfaction from a display that showed them at their worst as well as their best.

As error prone as their opponents for much of the match, Saints were never truly in danger of another defeat by underlings to set alongside the one by Wakefield two weeks ago. This win ensured that they were top of Super League at the end of the afternoon, but they will need to step up several gears for their imminent games against Leeds and Wigan, not to mention the play-offs thereafter.

Their coach, Ian Millward made his point succinctly at half-time. "I was concerned with our attitude," he said. "I told them how disappointed I was with the defence and then left the room pretty quickly. If we win our final three games of the season we will finish top and that's our objective."

The stage was set bythree soft tries in the first 10 minutes, Malcolm Alker, chasing a loose ball to give Salford a surprise lead, but Saints hitting back with touchdowns from Apollo Perelini and Keiron Cunningham.

Salford again exploited some hesitant tackling to equalise through Paul Southern, before the best move of the match saw three young Saints players combine superbly - Paul Wellens and Dwayne West sending Steve Hall away.

Long and Paul Sculthorpe stretched Saints' lead buttheir defence went to sleep in the minutes leading up to half-time. They gave Martin Offiah the chance to race away for one try and Gary Broadbent accepted the invitation to side-step his way through for another.

That left Salford just a converted try in arrears at the interval, but this was not a game in which either side learnt a lot from mistakes and Cunningham scored a try from Long's kick that was identical to one in the first half.

Karl Kirkpatrick is a referee who can be relied on to make a messy game messier and, after Joe Faimalo had been placed on report for a high tackle, he sin-binned Paul Highton for preventing a quickly taken penalty.

Chris Joynt went over, when the penalty was finally taken, and Salford were reduced to 11 men when Broadbent went to the bin for dissent.

"It's hard enough playing them with 13 men, nevermind 11," the Salford coach, John Harvey, said.

"I was very happy with the way our blokes stuck at it when they could have collapsed completely. We have three games left and are capable of winning them all."

Saints did get furthertries from Tony Stewart and John Stankevitch, Long'sseventh goal breaking Iestyn Harris' record, but Offiah's second underlined the fact that Salford were never entirely subdued.

St Helens: Wellens; Hall, West, Hoppe, Sullivan, Martyn, Long, Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, Tuilagi, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Jonkers, Stewart, Nickle, Stankevitch.

Salford: Broadbent; Pinkney, Webber, Tassell, Offiah, Blakeley, Holroyd, Southern, Alker, Smith, Nicol, Brown, Wainwright. Substitutes used: Faimalo, Highton, Roper, Hepi.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).

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