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Rugby League: Iro's quality shines through

St Helens 34 Gateshead 22

IN PERFORMANCE that explored the wild extremes of their good and bad habits, it was the sheer quality of their centres, Kevin Iro and Paul Newlove, that saw Saints home against the Super League newcomers.

Gateshead threatened a massive upset on more than one occasion, but it was the strike power of Newlove and Iro that kept Shaun McRae's old side just ahead of the game against his new one. Saints and Iro in particular began as though intent on blowing Gateshead away. The powerful Kiwi had already loomed menacingly on a couple occasions before Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe opened the way for him to charge over for his first try after nine minutes.

Long added the goal and the Thunder were rocking, but came back to level terms thanks to their talented half-backs. As Saints hesitated in the belief Kerrod Walters had knocked on, Willie Peters made a lovely little break to send Will Robinson over, leaving Ian Herron with a comfortable equalising conversion.

Saints still looked tremendously dangerous with the ball in their hands and moving arguably the most devastating centres in the game to the same side of the field on the sixth tackle should have been enough warning that they were intent on running the ball. They did so, through Long and Tommy Martyn, and Newlove's pass sent Iro across the line once more.

There was a big question mark over Gateshead's ability to cope with this sort of thing, but the worst of St Helens was on display as well as the best.

The Thunder's reply, after the ball had been moved rapidly across the field from a tap penalty was a close-range try from their substitute, Deon Bird, and Herron's kick put them ahead.

Saints then became horridly ragged and it was no surprise when they went further behind before half time, Herron landing the penalty after Vila Matautia had gone high on Craig Wilson.

It was ironic that it should be the least experienced St Helens player on the field, Tony Stewart, who tilted the game back their way. His run forced a penalty for holding down, which he took quickly to gain more ground, setting up the position from which Keiron Cunningham ploughed over the line.

Two goals from Long gave them a precarious lead before Newlove produced the moment of the match, intercepting a pass from Peters near his own line and going 90 yards for the crucial try.

With Saints, though, it was a case of anything we can do, we can help you to do as well, Martyn throwing a ball that was intercepted by Bird for his second try. Two goals from Herron narrowed the margin to two before an expensive knock-on from Walters gave Saints possession and Apollo Perelini to charge over.

Newlove then scattered Gateshead again with another gallop down the left and Long's try ensured that Saints would escape with the points. There was nothing here to suggest, however, that they are going to be any more predictable or reliable than they have ever been, or that Gateshead are not going to develop into a very capable side.

St Helens: Atcheson; Stewart, Iro, Newlove, Tuilagi; Martyn, Long; O'Neill, Cunningham, Davidson, Nickle, Perelini, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Edmundson, Matautia, Barrow, Wellens.

Gateshead: Sammut; Daylight, Simon, Grogan, Herron; Robinson, Peters; Lee, Walters, Green, Wilson, Felzch, Grimaldi. Substitutes used: Bird, R Allwood, Maher.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).