One week will make Saints stronger

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The Independent Online

St Helens remain on course for a clean sweep of the season's major trophies after surviving another tough test from Hull. The Challenge Cup winners and Super League table-toppers reached a fourth Grand Final - but their first for four years - thanks to a 12-8 victory in a qualifying semi-final that thrilled a 14,000 crowd at Knowsley Road on Friday evening

Hull threatened to repeat their victory at Knowsley Road in June when they led 8-6 early in the second half, but Saints finished the stronger side to book their place at Old Trafford on 14 October at the first attempt. "I can't fault their performance," said the team's coach, Daniel Anderson. "I can't find anyone who didn't make a contribution. It was frustrating at times. I thought we spluttered a little bit offensively. We coughed up a lot of ball when we were in attacking positions and missed some opportunities. Hull may have only had one or two opportunities and took one. We probably had three or four and took two. That's how close the game was."

The right-winger Ade Gardner, who was surprisingly dropped by Great Britain for the forthcoming Tri-Nations Series, put St Helens ahead with an 18th-minute try but centre Kirk Yeaman, who is in line to make his Lions debut after being named in the touring party, ended his try-drought to bring Hull level. Yeaman, who had not scored since notching his 21st try in Hull's 27-26 win at St Helens three months earlier, cut through on an angled run to the corner on 25 minutes.

Paul Cooke added the touchline conversion and his successful penalty three minutes into the second half put the visitors in front for the first time.

But Jamie Lyon, on his farewell appearance at Knowsley Road, levelled the scores with a long-range penalty to set the stage for left winger Francis Meli to scoop up Lee Gilmour's low pass and stumble over the line for the match-winning try on the hour.

Hull were left to contemplate a third successive defeat, but they still have a chance to reach their first Grand Final, in the final eliminator at the KC Stadium on Friday.

"We played very well," said Hull's coach, Peter Sharp. "We need to take something from it. It's how we recover, how we regroup and how we get ready for next weekend. We've still got to win one game to play in the Grand Final, the same as before tonight's game. It happens to be next week now."

Meanwhile, St Helens get another chance to put their feet up and Anderson believes the week off can work in their favour. "I don't think it hurts our preparations," he said. "We have been through a battle that was extremely fierce. Mentally and emotionally you have to get to such a high, and it can take a few days to get away from the game. We will be able to relax mentally next weekend. Hull have to find a way to get wound back up again. I will take the win and worry about two weeks' time."