Rugby League: Leeds need fast learning curve

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The Independent Online
Leeds. . . .14

St Helens. .27

WITH six new faces in their side, Leeds had some excuse for their disorganised collapse in the second half at Headingley yesterday. But if they could be pardoned for not forming an instant understanding with unfamiliar team- mates, they should at least have recognised a rugby ball and known what to do with it.

Leeds had taken the lead for the first time early in the second half when they began to fall apart with a string of errors.

Saints scored three tries, all of which owed a good deal to their opponents' foibles, to run away with a game which had been close, highly physical and exciting.

Shane Cooper's innocuous kick produced the first, Mike O'Neill missing laughably with an attempt at a clearing hack and Tea Ropati following up to score.

The second was much more clear-cut, but stemmed from Gary Connolly's ability to cruise past Carl Gibson, one of his predecessors in the Great Britain centres, with embarrassing ease. His pass sent in Anthony Sullivan for a try which put Saints seven points clear.

O'Neill, enduring a nightmarish second half, dropped Andy Gregory's pass to give Saints the try that put the match beyond doubt, Jonathan Griffiths dribbling skilfully to claim the touchdown. It was a sorry ending for Leeds, who, while always uneven and unpredictable, had produced as much good as bad rugby in the first half.

They had gone behind after nine minutes when Griffiths's kick ahead yielded a try for Connolly, converted by Ropati. Five minutes later, a vintage piece of half-back play from Gregory sent in Garry Schofield and gave the promise of more to come.

Gus O'Donnell's drop goal nudged Saints further ahead before John Gallagher landed the first of his three place kicks.

Leeds' capacity for outrageous errors was first displayed when Colin Maskill's pass gave Alan Hunte the chance to score a spectacular try running from deep, but the game switched Leeds' way after the break.

Ellery Hanley's try from Schofield's pass gave a glimpse of his old power, but a series of penalties conceded for high tackles undermined Leeds' lead as soon as it was on the scoreboard.

St Helens, adding a win against another of their main rivals to their Charity Shield victory over Wigan last week, showed an enviable ability to take chances.

Nobody expected Leeds to click immediately, but the fact is that the average age of yesterday's team is over 28. If they are going to find the elusive blend, it had better be reasonably quickly.

Leeds: Tait; Gallagher, Gibson, Innes, Fallon; Schofield, Gregory; O'Neill, Maskill, Dixon (Mercer, 54), Worrall (Wane, 40; Dixon, 65), Mercer (Goodway, 25), Hanley (capt).

St Helens: Hunte; Riley (Quirk, 39; Nickle, 48), Connolly, Ropati, Sullivan; Griffiths, O'Donnell; Neill, Dwyer, Ward, Harrison, Nickle (Forber, 32), Cooper (capt).

Referee: J Smith (Halifax).

Warrington's overseas contingent, the Australian scrum-half Greg Mackey and New Zealand lock Kelly Shelford, masterminded a second-half fightback for a 30-12 victory to ruin Leigh's home opener, their first game back in the top flight. Trailing

12-10 at half-time, Warrington pulled clear with tries from Gary Sanderson, Tony Thorniley and the substitute Rowland Phillips.

(Photograph omitted)

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