Saints battle back after Yeaman hat-trick to join leading pack

Hull 24 St Helens 24
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The Independent Online

The patched-up Saints joined the log-jam at the top of Super League by overturning an 18-point deficit in an extraordinary game. They missed the chance to go clear, but a draw was enough to put them third of the four sides on 18 points in a fluctuating tussle for the leadership.

It was a draw they earned despite Hull's domination of the first half and a hat-trick of tries from Kirk Yeaman, taking him to a competition-best 14 for the season so far. "If you'd have offered me a point at half-time, I'd have taken it, but in the end we were disappointed not to win," said Saints' coach, Royce Simmons. "Probably all the tackling we did first half came back to bite us on the bum."

With five half-backs injured, Simmons had little choice but to recall Kyle Eastmond for his first match since a club suspension for gesturing at fans who were heckling him for lack of effort. Eastmond is off to Bath at the end of the season; in the meantime, his present club needed him to rediscover the form that attracted the attention of the union outfit.

Saints' travelling supporters gave him what might be termed a neutral reception, certainly less warm than that accorded to James Graham, who has also announced that he is leaving at the end of the season, in his case for the irresistible challenge of the NRL.

It was not Eastmond, however, who was responsible for the errors that helped Hull to a 12-point lead in as many minutes. The first was from Tom Armstrong, Paul Wellens' stand-in at full-back, who spilled Richard Horne's bomb. After a penalty and some wonderful handling from Craig Fitzgibbon and Willie Manu, Yeaman was in for the first of his trio.

Sia Soliola was largely responsible for the second try, having the ball stolen from him by Tom Briscoe, who then had the alertness to get to dummy-half, pick up on the run and race away. Hull were on fire and it was hard to see what Saints could have done about their third try, created by Sam Obst's brilliant chip and regather and carried on by some slick handling for Yeaman to plunge over. Half-time was looming before Saints got on the scoreboard, through an attack triggered by the debutant and – according to Simmons – last fit back at the club, Nathan Ashe. Francis Meli timed his pass to Jamie Foster and the visitors had something to take into the second half.

Three tries in nine minutes then put them in an unlikely lead, the first of them from a scrum-base burst from James Roby. The next featured a flash of vintage Eastmond, with a lightning pass to Michael Shenton to put Ade Gardner over. It was the high-point of a mixed contribution from Eastmond. "He got better as the game went on," said Simmons. "He didn't have a poor game, but he'll get better."

Roby supplied the pass from which Tony Puletua put Saints ahead, before Yeaman seemed to have snatched it back for Hull when he latched onto Horne's break. "He's determined to get back into the international reckoning," said the former Test centre's coach, Richard Agar.

Then came Steve Ganson's most contentious decision, penalising Danny Washbrook for dangerous contact on Ashe while he was in the air. Foster, already a veteran of these tense late dramas, never looked like missing.

There was still time for Eastmond to add a fanciful ending, if his drop-goal attempt had not been charged down, but this was a match that had already had enough twists and turns.

Hull Whiting; Sharp, Gleeson, Yeaman, Briscoe; Horne, Obst; O'Meley, Houghton, Moa, Manu, Tickle, Fitzgibbon. Substitutes used Washbrook, Westerman, Dowes, Lauaki.

St Helens Armstrong; Gardner, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Wilkin, Eastmond; Graham, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Ashurst, Soliola, Puletua. Substitutes used Magennis, Dixon, Perry, Ashe.

Referee S Ganson (St Helens).