Long return fails to stop Bradford romp

Bradford 64 St Helens 24
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The Independent Online

Lesley Vainikolo stole the limelight from Sean Long as reigning champions Bradford crushed a weakened St Helens side to seal a second-place finish in Super League last night.

Lesley Vainikolo stole the limelight from Sean Long as reigning champions Bradford crushed a weakened St Helens side to seal a second-place finish in Super League last night.

Long produced an impressive performance on his eagerly-awaited return from a three-month ban but he was overshadowed by the rampaging Vainikolo, who grabbed his fifth hat-trick of the season to set a new Super League record of 36 tries.

He was gifted his first score by centre partner Shontayne Hape, who unselfishly passed up the chance of a hat-trick, but twice demonstrated his raw power to treble his tally for the match.

St Helens' defeat condemned them to fifth spot and they will launch their bid for an Old Trafford appearance with a trip to arch rivals Wigan next Saturday.

Saints did not arrive at Odsal until 45 minutes before kick-off after a motorway hold-up and they quickly found themselves 10-0 down after Hape struck with two tries in the first eight minutes.

But Long, captaining Saints on his return from a three-month ban imposed for betting irregularities, inspired a fightback, helping lay on a try for John Stankevitch and kicking three goals to level the scores.

A break by loose forward Logan Swann got Hape in the clear for what would have been his hat-trick. Instead of touching down himself, Hape offloaded to Vainikolo for his fellow Kiwi to register his opening try.

Long, showing no ill-effects from his lay-off, had been Saints' most effective player in the first half and he was prominent in the early stages of the second half.

It was his jinking run that set up the position from which Saints scored their second try, Mike Bennett winning the race to Paul Wellens' kick to the line.

After two more tries, it was inevitable that Vainikolo would eventually beat McGuire's Super League record and his 36th try of the campaign duly came on 58 minutes when he came in off his wing and took Karl Pratt's pass as first receiver to crash over.

Bradford: Withers, Reardon, Pryce, Hape, Vainikolo, Harris, Deacon, Vagana, Paul, Fielden, Swann, Peacock, Radford. Substitutes used: Johnson, Pratt, Moore, Parker.

St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Talau, Viane, Hardman, Roby, Long, Mason, Higham, Fa'asavalu, Joynt, Stankevitch, Wilkin. Substitutes used: Bennett, Graham, Feaunati, Bracek.

Referee: A Klein (London).

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