Saints victory eclipsed by a family’s grief

Wakefield 18 St Helens 42
Click to follow

For once, the game and the result were not what mattered as Wakefield said farewell to Leon Walker. Trinity's coach, John Kear, said before the game that he was unconcerned about the score, as long as the match was a worthy memorial to a highly regarded young player. Both sides tried to make it just that; unsurprisingly, it was Saints who found it easier to play coherent rugby.

The question hanging in the air at Belle Vue was whether Wakefield would be more affected by the tragically sudden loss of Walker last Sunday than Saints' Leon Pryce by the threat of a jail sentence for assault. "It was a night when we wanted to perform well and we didn't," said Kear.

The silence in memory of Walker, the Wildcats' 20-year-old reserve forward, was led on the pitch by his parents, Steve and Donna, and was inevitably charged with emotion.

Earlier in the day, the Rugby League had issued a finding from the post-mortem in South Wales that he had not died of any trauma or injury connected with the game. The inquest, which was opened and adjourned yesterday, will now look into other possibilities. His funeral will be in Leeds on Thursday, but it is not likely to be any more poignant than last night's remembrance.

It was also a difficult night for Saints, not only cast inadvertently in the role of intruders into private grief, but also fielding the other Leon, when other sports would not. Pryce pleaded guilty on Thursday to assault charges which could, the judge warned him, see him sent to jail next month.

On another evening, he could have expected a scathing welcome on an away ground. Last night, out of deference to the bigger picture, the hostility was muted, even when he scored three of his side's tries.

There was still an eerie atmosphere, however, when Wakefield opened the scoring after 80 seconds through Steve Snitch. James Graham, despite a forward pass, and Gary Wheeler then crossed for Saints. Wakefield drew level though Aaron Murphy, but tries from Matt Gidley and Pryce had Saints 10 points up at half-time.

The Wildcats missed chances, before Pryce with two, Tony Puletua and Ade Gardner took Saints out of sight. It was a heavy defeat for Wakefield, even when Ryan Atkins got one back; but, as Kear had said, that was not what this sad occasion was all about. "We were very professional about it," said Saints' coach, Mick Potter. "We paid our respects and then our focus was on getting the two points."

Wakefield: Blaymire; Blanch, Gleeson, Atkins, Murphy; Grix, Brough; Wilkes, Leo-Latu, Pitts, Snitch, Ferguson, Demetriou. Substitutes used: Bibb, Henderson, Obst, Sculthorpe.

St Helens: Lomax; Gardner, Gidley, Gilmour, Armstrong; Pryce, Wheeler; Hargreaves, Cunningham, Graham, Wilkin, Flannery, Clough. Substitutes used: Puletua, Fa'asavalu, Cayless, Ashurst.

Referee: T Alibert (France)