Rugby League: Auckland show size of task ahead

St Helens 14 Auckland 42
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The Independent Online
If this is the worst the Southern Hemisphere can throw at us, we await the arrival of the best with some trepidation. A St Helens side, admittedly below full strength, was no match last night for the bottom club in the Antipodes version of Super League in the first World Club Championship fixture in Britain.

Last year's domestic double-winners had nothing to match the unpredictable sorties of Stacey Jones, the pace and directness of their outside backs, or the quality forward play of Denis Betts and Steve Kearney.

Saints could hardly have made a worst start, with eight points conceded in the first five minutes and Bobbie Goulding struggling with a groin injury. He was having treatment when Jones caught Saint's defence on the back foot.

Saints conceded a penalty by holding Jones down and Matthew Ridge kicked the first of his goals.

From the kick-off, Alan Hunte knocked on and the scrum saw Jones dart for the line. When he was stopped, Gene Ngamu served the ball up for Steve Kearney to crash through and leave Ridge with another simple kick.

After 17 minutes, Jones was tormenting Saints again, taking a pass from Ngamu and sliding past Goulding's despairing lunge for another converted try.

Saints had a let-off when Steve Prescott lost the ball in Tea Ropati's tackle and Marc Ellis's touchdown was disallowed for a knock on.

Auckland had an escape of a different sort as the game became increasingly heated and Anthony Swann appeared to knee Andy Haigh in the head.

Five minutes before the break, St Helens at last made in roads, Chris Joynt roaring out of his own territory and Anthony Sullivan arriving in support for a try which Goulding improved before adding an injury-time penalty.

The trouble was that, even deeper into time added on, Jones' kick caught Goulding back-peddling in vain and Swann won the race for another Auckland try.

Auckland lost Ropati for 10 minutes at the start of the second half, sin-binned for interfering at the play-the-ball, but Saints never looked likely to take advantage. Instead, a terrible pass from Goulding to Vila Matautia produced a knock-on and Auckland duly took possession from the scrum for Sean Hoppe to force his way over in the corner, Ridge keeping up his faultless kicking even from the narrow angle.

The visitors rubbed in their superiority as Swann waltzed round Dean Busby for another try with 13 minutes left, Ridge finally missing with a kick.

Hunte got a consolation for Saints, but Auckland kept their distance with Hoppe finishing off Swann's break. The Warriors were now thoroughly enjoying themselves, Ropati rounding it off on his return to his old club with their seventh try.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Haigh, Hunte, Sullivan; Johnson, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham O'Neill Joynt, Booth, Morley. Substitutes used: Pickavance, Busby, Matautia, Anderson

Auckland: Ridge; Hoppe, Ropati, Swann, Ellis; Ngamu, Jones; Vagana, Eru, Malam, Tuimavave, Kearney, Betts. Substitutes used: Horo, Henare, Endacott, Noovao.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).