Long returns to haunt Saints

St Helens 12 Hull 32
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The Independent Online

Hull navigated their way through the murk infinitely better than their hosts as Sean Long made a speedy and successful return to Saints last night.

"It was always going to be a big show from him but he's been doing that for a long time and we shouldn't be surprised," said Hull coach Richard Agar.

Long, who spent 12 years at Saints, himself said that he had been unusually nervous before the game. "I had to hold it in because I didn't want the lads to know," he said. "The pressure was on me, but what a great team performance." The ex-Great Britain scrum-half, not offered a long enough contract to keep him at St Helens, came back to haunt them, setting up a try, scoring one and exerting a major influence for his new side.

Long's initial re-appearance at Knowsley Road, the ground where he was a hero for 12 seasons, was obscured by fog. The referee, Ben Thaler, delayed the kick-off for 15 minutes because of the mist.

Long's reception could be described as polite, even muted, quite possibly as many could not see him. Perhaps it was their maritime tradition but it was Hull who coped the better with the conditions. The impressive Jordan Tansey was close to touching down from Richard Horne's kick after 13 minutes, but when Hull took the lead it was, true to the script, Long who was at the heart of it.

Hull were awarded two penalties near the Saints line, the first of them for Leon Pryce's foul on his old half-back partner. Long – Saints-style – declined the easy kicks at goal and was vindicated when Willie Manu took his short pass and plunged over.

As half-time approached, Horne, thriving on playing alongside a general of Long's calibre, fed the powerful Tongan, Epalahame Lauaki, who ran straight through Pryce's attempt at a tackle. Danny Tickle's second conversion completed a 12-point lead at the break. He added a penalty and then supplied a pearl of a pass to set up Long's homecoming try.

Saints were handicapped by a series of injuries in the backs that left them without a recognisable three-quarter line and the Test hooker, James Roby, on the wing. The cutting edge they were lacking was illustrated by Hull's winger, Tom Briscoe, going 80 metres for the try that killed Saints off.

They had a minor revival when Tansey was in the sin-bin, with tries from Matt Gidley and Chris Flannery, but Hull maintained control with Kirk Yeaman's try. It could be a Long summer for the side that finished 12th of 14 last season.

St Helens Wellens; Gardner, Gidley, Soliola, Wheeler; Pryce, Eastmond; Graham, Cunningham, Fozzard, Puletua, Flannery, Wilkin. Interchange: Fa'asavalu, Roby, Moore, Clough

Hull Tansey; Hall, Whiting, Yeaman, Briscoe; Horne, Long; O'Meley, Berrigan, Radford, Manu, Tickle, Fitzgibbon. Interchange: Dowes, Lauaki, Cusack, Houghton.

Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).