Saints sentenced to a long march

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The Independent Online

He joins Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe, Darren Albert and Mark Edmondson on the sidelines as they take on the winners of today's match between Bradford and Hull. Although Saints finished the regular season on top of Super League, the odds are starting to stack up against them. "We are not discouraged," insisted their coach, Daniel Anderson, on Friday night. "But we're obviously down on personnel."

Despite their problems, Saints almost snatched victory at the death, largely thanks to what Anderson called "a fantastic cameo" from Jamie Lyon. The Australian centre, a strong candidate for the Man of Steel award this week, had been kept quiet by his opposite number, Chris McKenna, for almost 70 minutes. But then he broke his shackles to score two tries and set up another in a frantic six-minute spell. "We might have had them if we'd had another five minutes, because we were going pretty strong," said Lyon with some understatement.

Castleford were going pretty strong at Whitehaven last week when they led 18-0 after 20 minutes of their National League One play-off. They eventually lost 32-22, sending the Cumbrians straight through to next week's Grand Final at Widnes and condemning the Tigers to a nerve-racking sudden-death encounter with Halifax today. Their coach, Dave Woods, is likely to start with Adrian Vowles after easing him back into the British game from the substitutes' bench, but has fitness doubts over Craig Huby's hand and Andy Kain's knee.

Halifax have been the surprise packet of the division. It is only a year since they were within minutes of dropping into National League Two, but under the coaching of Anthony Farrell they have improved immensely. Only two years ago, they were in the process of being relegated from Super League and now they are, in theory, only two wins away from a return, although The Shay would need major work before to meet the competition's criteria.

Halifax produced a stunning performance to beat Hull KR and end their season last week, but that has left them with a legacy of injury problems. Dean Lawford, Ben Black, Jason Boults, Chris Morley and Pat Weisner all face fitness tests against a Castleford side who will surely have an edge of desperation.

In National League Two, Dewsbury - whose coach, Andy Kelly, has been battling illness for much of the season - meet Workington for the remaining place in the Grand Final. With Whitehaven through, their West Cumbrian neighbours would love to join them at Widnes for a chance to remind the game about its forgotten frontier.

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