Long's late try bowls over Bradford

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St Helens 33 Bradford 25

IF ANY of the big guns are to miss out on the play-offs, it is likely to be Bradford after the Super League champions came out second best in a marvellous match at Knowsley Road last night, writes Dave Hadfield.

A ferocious start and a decisive late try from Sean Long saw Saints home, but the Bulls played a thrilling role in one of the most compelling contests of the season.

Saints, and particularly their front row, began like men possessed. After Jon Scales had been carted into touch as soon as he caught the kick-off, Apollo Perelini stood in the tackle to lay on Keiron Cunningham's first try. Eleven minutes later, after Paul Atcheson and Julian O'Neill had led the charge down field, Perelini and O'Neill combined to send Cunningham over for his second, again improved by Long.

Bradford, with only a Steve McNamara penalty to their name, needed a stroke of luck and they got it when McNamara's low kick came back off Perelini for Tevita Vaikona to claim his 12th try of the season.

Saints, however, were irrepressible. They scored a third try when Paul Newlove and Anthony Sullivan came racing out of their own 25 for Atcheson to serve up the ball for Tommy Martyn, and they should have had one more, Sullivan being denied by a double movement.

What should have been a comfortable half-time lead was reduced to modest proportions when McNamara's long pass sent Vaikona in for his second.

Graeme Bradley, who has announced that he will retire at the end of this season, was responsible for bringing Bradford level three minutes into the second half, running off Mike Forshaw's short pass to score a try and leave McNamara an easy shot for his third goal.

The other side of Bradley was then in evidence as his foul on Damien Smith conceded the penalty that put Saints back in front, although that was soon wiped out when the same Saints player was penalised for not playing the ball.

The Bulls then hit the front for the first time with McNamara's drop goal. It was a lead as short-lived as it was slender, however, with Saints going back in front from their next attack when Long's high kick came back off Stuart Spruce for Atcheson to touch down. Long's conversion and drop goal edged Saints closer to victory, but it was not safe until he darted through to score six minutes from time, adding his sixth place kick as the insurance they momentarily looked like needing when Spruce went over for the last points of the game with time running out.

St Helens: Atcheson; C Smith, D Smith, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Long; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, Davidson, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Goldspink, Anderson, Barrow

Bradford: Spruce; Scales, Calland, Bradley, Vaikona; Paul, Deacon; Harmon, Lowes, Reihana, Knox, Foreshaw, McNamara. Substitutes used: Crouthers, Donougher, McDermott, Fielden.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).