Wellens' persistence redeems punishing weekend for Saints

St Helens 34 Bradford 27
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The Independent Online

A hat-trick of tries from Paul Wellens steered Saints to a dramatic victory as two sides defied exhaustion to stage yet another in the series of epic finishes in Super League this season.

A hat-trick of tries from Paul Wellens steered Saints to a dramatic victory as two sides defied exhaustion to stage yet another in the series of epic finishes in Super League this season.

It was Wellens' persistence in running at the heart of the Bradford defence that forced a penalty that put Saints ahead with 10 minutes to play.

There was a bizarre interlude when Paul Deacon, apparently believing that the scores were level, put over a drop goal for the Bulls and then missed another.

"He had it in mind that the scores were level,'' said the Bradford coach Brian Noble. "I thought we deserved a draw at least but I can't praise the players enough for the effort they put in.''

For Ian Millward, it was triumph in a game that should have never been played. The Saints coach is a long-standing critic of playing two games over the holiday weekend. "It was 80 minutes of torture,'' he said. "But at least it had a result.''

Those who agree with him that two games over Easter is too much for the modern player found plenty to support their case in the opening minutes, with weary handling mistakes preventing the match from finding any rhythm.

There was plenty of vigour in the Bradford tackling as they twice dragged opponents back over their own try line, but it was Saints who went closest when Sean Long was grounded a fraction short by Brad Meyers' ankle tackle.

Karl Pratt got over, but was held up. But they were able to continue their attack, Deacon kicked through delicately and the ball sat up for Andy Lynch to grab and give Bradford the lead.

It took Saints only two minutes to level the scores again from a kick, Keiron Cunningham getting his angle right and Wellens reaching it just before the dead ball line for his first try. It was a case of the rough and smooth for Lynch, who lost the ball to begin the attack.

After drawing level, Saints dominated the last 10 minutes of the half. Paul Anderson and Cunningham were stopped on the line before Long and Vinnie Anderson sent Mike Bennett through a big gap and they were ahead for the first time.

That lead was extended before the break when Jamie Peacock tried to get his pass away near the Saints' line, only to see it scooped up by Vinnie Anderson who went to the other end before coolly releasing it for James Roby.

Karl Pryce figured prominently at the start of the second half, failing to take advantage of a clear overlap, but then scoring the try out of nothing as he cut in to take Iestyn Harris's speculative pass.

Wellens restored Saints' 10-point lead by driving over with sheer determination, but back came the Bulls when Robbie Paul sold a couple of dummies and wove his way through.

Lynch's second, rolling over to score after taking Paul's pass, put Bradford in front, but Darren Albert took the ball from Long as the lead changed hands again.

Deacon was credited with a penalty to bring the scores level once more, even though Millward was adamant that his kick had missed. It was one of a lengthening list of grievances he wants to take up with the referees' department at the Rugby League.

"The administration of the game at the moment is a disgrace,'' he said.

The same could be said for Deacon's arithmetic as he tried to wipe out the lead Ian Hardman's boot had given Saints with his drop goal attempt.

Failing with the second meant the game was up and that Bradford would go empty handed over Easter, although Wellens' third in the last act of the match made certain.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardener, Gilmour, Alberts, Hardman; Roby, Long; Fozzard, Cunningham, Mason, V Anderson, Bennett, Wilkin. Substitutes used: Graham, P Anderson, Fa'asavaou.

Bradford: L Pryce; Reardon, Langley, K Pryce, Smith; Harris, Deacon; Vagana, Paul, Fielden, Peacock, Meyers, Radford. Substitutes used: Pratt, Cook, Parker, Lynch.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).