NOT for the first time, Sean Long posed the question of how long Saints can leave him out of their starting line-up.
Long, a substitute for the injured Tommy Martyn midway through the first half of a gripping contest at The Willows yesterday, was the man who swung it Saints' way. But in a few minutes of coming on, it was his perfectly timed pass that sent Andy Haigh through for the converted try that levelled the scores.
In the key period of the match early in the second half, the former Wigan and Widnes half-back seized the initiative on Saints' behalf. First he latched on to a marvellous pass slipped out of the tackle by Brett Goldspink and showed his remarkable pace in racing 55 yards to score. Then, in the 50th minute, his deft ball sent Haigh away. Long was there to support on his right, but Haigh opted instead for Paul Newlove steaming up on the outside and, with Bobbie Goulding's two goals, Saints were 18-6 ahead.
That was far from being the end of it, because Salford, bouncing back from their disappointment in the Challenge Cup semi-finals last weekend, battled their way back into contention.
Martin Crompton burrowed his way over for one try and then David Hulme found a gap which he exploited with an angled run.
Josh White, kicking in place of another of the game's casualties, Steve Blakeley, could land neither of the conversions and it was fitting that a game played out in trench warfare conditions should end 14-18.
"If it had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped," claimed the Salford coach, Andy Gregory, and his side undeniably had the best of the first half.
All their territorial pressure only brought them one try, in the 16th minute from Cliff Eccles, who powered over after Esene Faimalo and Crompton had given them their momentum.
Martyn's knee injury is a worry for Saints given his history of similar problems, but at least in Long they have a match winning replacement.
"Sean would be in the starting line up in most sides," his coach, Shaun McRae, said. "He showed today that he is that sort of calibre."
Salford also have problems going into the Good Friday programme with their prop forwards Andy Platt and Cliff Eccles likely to be out of action with ankle injuries. Blakeley, who, like Martyn, has another knee ailment is also likely to be unfit.
Salford: Broadbent; Hassan, Naylor, McAvoy, Rogers, Blakeley, White, Platt, Edwards, Eccles, E Faimalo, Hulme, Crompton. Substitutes used: Martin, Bradbury, J Faimalo, Savelio.
St Helens: Atcheson; Hayes, Haigh, Newlove, Sullivan, Martyn, Goulding, Goldspink, Hamilton, O'Neill, Joynt, Sculthorpe, Hammond. Substitutes used: Long, Pickavance, Anderton, Davidson.
Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).Reuse content