Leeds delay their agony

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The Independent Online
St Helens 14Leeds 20

Leeds kept their theoretical chance of winning the Championship alive by winning at St Helens for the first time since 1988, writes Dave Hadfield.

Leeds survived a late scare, stirred by Scott Gibbs' try with three minutes to go, finally making sure of taking the one-sided battle a little deeper into January when their substitute, Mick Shaw, did what he does better than anyone else by scampering in from dummy-half.

The visitors always had the better of a match which, if it was sadly lacking in precision, had plenty in the way of passion for compensation.

They took an early lead through Garry Schofield, who confirmed his recovery from a hamstring injury with a composed and influential game at scrum- half, but lost it through a mistake from their Kiwi centre, Craig Innes. Innes lost the ball in the tackle after carrying it one-handed in front of him and Karle Hammond scored from close range.

Bobbie Goulding, needing 10 points for a thousand in his career, kicked Saints level and could have given them lead if he had enjoyed a better day with the boot. Instead, Innes made up for his error early in the second half, catching the Saints' defence in a slack moment and scything through from 20 yards out.

Graham Holroyd's second goal put them 12-6 ahead and the only impressions Saints could make on that lead was from a Goulding penalty.

On top of Innes' contribution, it was the further Kiwi connection of George Mann and Carl Hall who gave Leeds what should have been a comfortable advantage. Mann, playing surprisingly effectively at stand-off against his old club, sent Hall striding away and his fellow New Zealander confirmed the good impression he has made since arriving from Bradford last month, declining to pass to Schofield or Marvin Golden in support and going alone from 50 yards to score.

Gibbs had a try disallowed before taking advantage of a comedy of handling errors to plunge over. It was suddenly possible that a St Helens team with rather more of a first-choice look to it than the one that lost at Central Park on Boxing Day might do Wigan the ultimate favour of ending Leeds' challenge.

Shaw's electric pace removed that possibility, even if Leeds have only delayed the inevitable.

"It is not in our thinking that we could win it from here," their coach, Dean Bell, said. "But at least we are not handing it to Wigan on a plate."

St Helens: Prescott; Riley, Northey, Gibbs, Arnold; Hammond, Goulding; Fogerty (Haigh, 67), Veivers, Leathem (Matautia, 24), Booth, Pickavance, Busby (G Cunningham, 53). Substitute not used: Waring.

Leeds: Holroyd (A Gibbons, 70); Fallon, Innes, Hall, Golden, Mann; Schofield, Harmon; Lowes, Howard (McDermott, 50), Morley (Shaw, 58), Field (Fozzard, 27), Forshaw.

Referee: C Morris (Huddersfield).

n Salford virtually clinched the First Division title with a 24-6 victory over Featherstone yesterday while second-placed Keighley lost 20-12 at Hull. Salford now need just two wins from their last four games to take the title.

Rugby League results, tables,

Sporting Digest, page 18