Sharp furious over Saints' escape

Huddersfield 22 St Helens 26
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The Independent Online

A spectacular six-minute burst yesterday that might have been labelled "essence of St Helens'' saw the Challenge Cup holders enter the fifth round of this years' competition.

Huddersfield were the better side for most of an epic tie. The trouble with playing St Helens, however, is that if you leave the window of opportunity just slightly ajar they are liable to be away with all your valuables before you know it.

The Giants were leading 18-8 after a first half effort that left Saints looking distinctly leg-weary and an equally good start to the second half. But then an engine that had been stuttering suddenly went into overdrive. Saints were given an extra set of tackles when Sean Long's kick was blocked and they used it to maximum effect when Jamie Lyon put Darren Albert over for a hotly disputed try in the corner.

Huddersfield had no chance to recover before Saints hit them down the other flank, Lee Gilmour sending Ade Gardner away and the wing throwing an instinctive pass infield for Vinnie Anderson to score. That brought Saints level and three minutes later they were ahead, when Lyon juggled Jon Wilkin's pass deep in his own half before racing away and sending Albert in for his second.

Huddersfield's coach, Jon Sharp, was so unhappy with the first of those tries and with a Paul March effort that was disallowed just before half-time that he took the unusual step of bringing his lap top into the press conference to help debate the decisions.

"I'm absolutely furious, I really am,'' he said of Ronnie Laughton's rulings. "It just detracts from a superb game. It's so frustrating. The boys are heartbroken.''

Refereeing always threatened to be an issue in this game after Saints complained that Ian Smith, originally appointed for the match, had spoken at a fans' forum in Huddersfield last week. That was considered sufficient reason to switch him to Batley's tie with Leigh and bring in Mr Laughton, with whom Huddersfield had already failed to see eye to eye this season.

Sharp clearly regards him as an official who favours the so-called bigger teams, although he accepts that he will probably be fined for saying so.

"I wonder how many shock results this referee has refereed in,'' he said. "I'll be reported, but I've saved up for this one.''

Huddersfield had looked capable of reducing the refereeing controversy to a footnote, though, in the first half. They took the lead when Stanley Gene took Brad Drew's pass to go over and they got the benefit of the first debatable decision when Mr Laughton credited Michael de Vere with the conversion despite both touch judges appearing to signal that he had missed.

Saints led through Gilmour's try and two Lyon goals, but their disarray was illustrated by a bizarre incident in which Maurie Fa'asavalu seemed to tackle Paul Reilly high and followed through to clash heads with Gilmour.

"I'm just relieved they didn't get up and start fighting each other,'' said the Saints coach, Ian Millward.

Gene's clever kick set up Marcus St Hilaire as the Giants regained the lead and they made it a 10-point advantage early in the second half when Gene got his pass away to Chris Nero, who dummied his way through.

That merely set the stage for an explosion of the sort of brilliance that makes St Helens special, but even after that they were a long way from being in firm control. Some slick handling from Drew, March and James Evans sent Paul White over, but De Vere could not land the conversion to level the scores.

A penalty for offside stretched Saints' lead and hard though Huddersfield pressed after that they could not break down a Saints defence which was now grimly determined to hang on to the trophy.

Huddersfield: Reilly; O'Hare, Evans, De Vere, St Hilaire; Gene, March; Jackson, Drew, Gannon, Nero, Smith, Roarty. Substitutes used: Slicker, Jones, Crabtree, White.

St Helens: Wellens; Albert, Lyon, Gilmour, Gardner; Roby, Long; Fozzard, Cunningham, P Anderson, V Anderson, Bennett, Wilkin. Substitutes used: Higham, Graham, Mason, Fa'asavalu.

Referee: R Laughton (Barnsley).