Rugby League : Leeds survive scare

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

Leeds 36 St Helens 24

It was everything you would expect and more from two sides traditionally keener on attack than defence. An untidy match full of action produced 12 tries and a winning start for Leeds' new coach, Dean Bell, but it did not come without a number of scares.

Saints took an early lead with a spectacular try from Anthony Sullivan before Kevin Iro's kick created a try for Jim Fallon and a touchdown from the excellent Mike Forshaw, making a good job of filling Ellery Hanley's discarded jersey, put Leeds ahead.

A pass out of the tackle by Chris Joynt and a powerful surge by Vila Matautia levelled the scores for Saints, but Leeds regained the lead through Paul Cook, only for the visitors to draw within two points at halftime thanks to Sullivan's second.

Invigorating as all this was, it owed a good deal to the vulnerability of the defences. Both sides had periods when they could not have tackled a hot dinner, let alone an on-rushing forward, and Saints' downfall came immediately after half-time. Within 10 minutes Garry Schofield scored from his own kick ahead, Nick Fozzard went through some dreadful tackling for another and Schofield's long pass opened the way for Cook's second.

Leeds were particularly prone to fall away in the face of Matautia's bull-like charges and his second try in the 58th minute brought Saints back into contention. There would have been real panic if Paul Loughlin had succeeded in touching down instead of losing the ball over the line shortly after.

Even when Saints had Bernard Dwyer sent off for a high tackle on Fozzard, having been warned previously for his reckless tackling, they contrived to threaten a fightback when Scott Gibbs raced in. But a fine ball out of the tackle by Forshaw paved the way for Francis Cummins to clinch a breathless affair.

It was not a perfect welcome for Bell - there were too many mistakes for that - but, as he said: "That's the difference between Wigan and the rest. They play a mistake-free game and if we can get to that stage we can challenge them."

In the meantime, matches between Leeds and Saints will carry a virtual guarantee of good, knockabout entertainment.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro (Cummins, 30), Hassan, Cook; Schofield, Gibbons; Harmon (Shaw, 68), Lowes, Faimalo, Mercer, A Morley (Fozzard 43; Vassilakopoulos, 77), Forshaw.

St Helens: Prescott; Hayes, Haigh (Waring, 57), Loughlin (Northey, 63), Sullivan; Gibbs, Goulding; Perelini (Pickavance, 47), Cunningham, Dwyer, Matautia, Joynt, Busby (C Morley, 45).

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

n Bradford Bulls ran out easy 26-16 winners against London Broncos but were booed off the pitch. St John Ellis scored a spectacular try on his debut.

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