Sculthorpe returns in style

St Helens 24 London 6
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When a player of Paul Sculthorpe's calibre returns to your side it is not simply a matter of what he does, but what he enables others to do.

Sculthorpe made a triumphant comeback for St Helens last night after a nine game absence for this sudden death play-off against London and, although he did not figure on the scoresheet, Sean Long's 16-point haul owed a good deal to his return.

With both those pivotal players in the team, Saints were suddenly balanced again and dangerous from all over the field.

"They work very well together and there's a great rapport," said the Saints' coach, Ian Millward. "It was good to see Paul back and the run under his belt will do him good."

Sculthorpe was relieved to feel no reaction from his hamstring. "I've been fretting for nine weeks, because I've been 95 percent fit," he said.

Long, finding more space than in recent months, monopolised the early scoring with three goals and two tries - his first for nine games and the first of them his 100th try for the club.

Sculthorpe figured in that score, somehow getting the ball out of the tackle to send Martin Gleeson away. He had Darren Albert in support and the winger would have scored had he not lost his footing, but Long arrived in time to take the next pass and complete the job. It was Sculthorpe's kick that got away from Paul Sykes and Joel Caine for Long to touch down the loose ball for his second.

London needed to strike back quickly and they did that with a try of stunning simplicity, Dennis Moran and Nigel Roy combining to clear the path on the left for Andrew King.

Chris Thorman could not convert, but added the penalty, although any thought that this marked a turning point faded by half time when Willie Talau took Long's pass to blast through for his first try for Saints.

Tony Rea was delighted with the determination of his Broncos side after the break, but they could not find a way through some mighty Saints defence, amid which Sculthorpe was as influential as he had been with the ball.

The Broncos had two openings, both wasted by forward passes by Sykes, but Rea was still full of praise. "It was probably an experience, but to have got those chances was a great credit to the blokes," he said.

Saints gave them a lesson in clinical finishing seven minutes from time when they moved the ball crisply from one side of the field to the other for Darren Smith to score.

They now await the winners of tonight's play-off between Wigan and Warrington and, with Sculthorpe back in the side, no one will rule out their chances of retaining their trophy.

St Helens: Wellens; Albert, Gleeson, Newlove, Gardner; Sculthorpe, Long; Joynt, Cunningham, Ward, Talau, Stankevitch, Smith. Substitutes used: Hooper, Higham, Bennett, Edmondson.

London: Sykes; King, Roy, Martin, Caine; Thorman, Moran; Bawden, Budworth, Stephenson, Toshack, Retchless, Dymock. Substitutes used: Trindall, Hamilton, McConnell, Purdham.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).