Hunte the Saintly saboteur

at Central Park St Helens 50 Salford 20
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The Independent Online
St Helens will be at Wembley on 3 May to defend the Silk Cup Challenge Cup they won there last year, after ruthlessly exploiting all Salford's frailties in a commanding semi-final display at Wigan.

Saints, with hat-tricks from both Anthony Sullivan and Alan Hunte, gave a harsh lesson in how to capitalise upon their opponents' mistakes - and sadly for Salford, who came to Central Park with such optimism, there were plenty of mistakes begging to be capitalised upon. The tone was set early in proceedings, with Salford three times squandering promising positions.

By stark contrast, St Helens' first real attack brought the first try of the game. Julian O'Neill made ground with a strong drive on the left and when the ball was switched to the opposite flank, Karle Hammond sold a dummy to send in Hunte for the first of his three. Then, 10 minutes later, the same combination struck again, Hunte this time going straight through a woeful attempt to tackle by Nathan McAvoy.

Salford was still enjoying plenty of possession and two penalties from Steve Blakeley would have sent Salford in at half-time relieved at the damage limitation had Darren Rogers not failed hopelessly to take Tommy Martyn's high kick. From the resulting possession Chris Joynt again took advantage of naivete among the would-be tacklers and, with the first of Lee Briers' seven goals, Saints were 10 points to the good.

Three minutes after the break, Paul Newlove, otherwise fairly subdued, blasted through a series of attempted tackles after David Hulme had conceded a scrum by knocking on. When he slipped the ball to Sullivan, the remnants of Salford's defence all went towards the touchline and Sullivan simply cut inside to score his first. Esene Faimalo's drive to the line and Blakeley's jinking run gave Salford some brief respite, but Saints were soon punishing them again. Keiron Cunningham, once more outstanding in a big game, claimed the ultimate modern hooker's try, haring 50 yards from acting-half and tearing his way out of Rogers' and McAvoy's clutches. Wonderful handling by Martyn then gave Sullivan his second, with Rogers beaten on the outside, swiftly followed by his third, courtesy of Newlove and Ian Pickavance.

With Saints relaxing, secure in the knowledge of a job well done, Salford managed a little gesture of resistance. Rogers and McAvoy, two players who had endured a particularly wretched time in defence, both got tries during a short-lived flurry.

Saints slapped them back down with something close to contempt, Hunte going in for his third - almost inevitably - from Hammond's pass. Another penetrative run by the excellent Hammond finished it all off, his pass eventually finding its way to Steve Prescott. By then, Salford looked shell-shocked and groggy, as well they might after being on the receiving end of Saints at their most destructive.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Hunte, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Briers; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, Morley, Hammond. Substitutes: Pickavance, Matautia, McVey, Northey.

Salford: Rogers; Sini, Naylor, McAvoy, Coussons; Blakeley, Watson; Platt, Edwards, Eccles, Forber, Cartwright, Hulme. Substitutes: Savelio, Randall, Faimalo, Martin.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).