Rugby League: Burst of Saints leaves tired Halifax behind

Halifax 30 St Helens 37
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ST HELENS showed the best and worst of their approach to the game as they moved within one match of a Grand Final appearance most thought would be beyond them at the end of such a turbulent season.

Saints, playing magnificently for their departing coach, Shaun McRae, were rampant as they built up a match-winning lead over weary looking opponents in the first 55 minutes at The Shay last night.

But the slipshod defence that can accompany even their most spectacular performances allowed Halifax to come back to an extent that gave the illusion that they had been in with a chance. They will not be able to give Wigan or Leeds such leeway next week.

Halifax were given a two point start with a Martin Pearson goal from halfway after Tommy Martyn had put his kick-off straight into touch, but that was the last thing that went right for them in the first half.

Once Saints had weathered an early period of pressure, they cut loose with three tries in 10 minutes.

Martyn more than made up for his early aberration with a kick-through that took a kind bounce to enable him to follow up and score the first.

Then the outstanding Paul Sculthorpe laid on the second try for Chris Joynt. Halifax had barely recovered when Saints attacked down their favourite left channel once more, Martyn's run and Joynt's beautiful pass giving Anthony Sullivan just enough room in the corner.

Sean Long made matters worse by landing all three conversions and adding a penalty.

Saints went even further ahead, Sculthorpe getting away a gem of a pass and Paul Newlove romping in at will. Halifax, showing the effects of a tough match at Leeds five days earlier, had reserved their worst 40 minutes of the season for the most crucial time.

It got worse for a team that had performed with such credit this year. Gavin Clinch's speculative pass was picked off a minute into the second half by Damien Smith and, although he was caught by Damian Gibson, the attacking momentum was sustained. Martyn bobbed and weaved and Apollo Perelini and Kieron Cunningham got Saints over the try-line yet again.

Halifax got over the try-line for the first time when Gary Mercer's kick ricocheted into the arms of Daio Powell.

It seemed only a momentary respite, though, when Long and Newlove sent Sullivan racing away for Saints sixth try.

But Saints conceded four tries in the last 20 minutes to make this look the contest that it never was.

Halifax: Pearson; Gibson, Powell, Bloem, Bouveng; Chester, Clinch; Harrison, Rowley, Skerrett, Mercer, Gillespie, Moana. Substitutes used: Clark, Baldwin, Marshall, Hall.

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

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).