Rugby League: Long's style spurs Saints

Warrington Wolves 12 St Helens 35
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ST HELENS closed the gap on leaders Bradford Bulls to five points yesterday with a game in hand after a convincing victory at Wilderspool inspired by their irrepressible stand-off Shaun Long, the hooker Keiron Cunningham and their captain, Chris Joynt.

In severely denting their neighbours' hopes of a top-five finish, Saints also reaffirmed their determination to take the battle for top spot right to the end of the season as Bradford still have to come to Knowsley Road.

Influential Warrington scrum-half Lee Briers tested the Saints defence early on with a shrewd variety of kicks, but the visitors survived intact. Then Sean Long, returning after a calf injury, gave Saints the lead with a 35-metre penalty when the Warrington prop Mark Hilton was pulled up for offside.

Warrington were denied the opening try by the video referee, who ruled that their loose forward Mike Wainwright had lost the ball over the line in a double tackle by Paul Aitcheson and Paul Wellens. Wainwright cleverly worked the blind side after the Super League's leading try scorer, Toa Kohe-Love, was held up just short of the line.

Going into the game without the injured Paul Newlove (toe), Saints lost their other star centre when Kevin Iro limped off. But his replacement, Steve Hall, made an immediate contribution, scoring with his first touch. The former Warrington favourite Paul Sculthorpe received from Long, bumped off a Simon Gillies tackle to send Hall over by the corner flag on the right for an unconverted try.

A rampaging run by Ferepi Tuilagi set up another sustained spell of Saints pressure. The winger Chris Smith, running across the face of the home defensive line, cleverly picked his moment to send Joynt diving between two defenders wide out of the left. Long's conversion gave Saints a commanding 12-0 interval lead, but Warrington full-back Lee Penny kept his side in contention with a superb cover tackle to thwart Joynt's 30-metre burst just before half-time.

Cunningham enjoyed better fortune with a superb 40-metre try direct from dummy half seconds later. Long's conversion and a drop goal opened up a commanding 19-0 lead.

Saints were now cutting loose against a Warrington side looking weary after their midweek victory at Huddersfield. Paul Wellens cut inside Briers' challenge to score and then Sullivan finished off a Joynt burst.

Long, who was revelling in his freedom, then combined with Sculthorpe to score another try which, with his conversion, gave Saints a 35-0 lead with 15 minutes still to play.

A brave Warrington rally in the last 10 minutes at least gave some dignity to the scoreline. Chris Causey and Mike Wainwright both crossed for tries wide out on the left, Roper adding both conversions.

The St Helens coach, Ellery Hanley, said: "There was tremendous character and spirit in our performance."

Warrington: Penny; Hunte, Kohe-Love, Roper, Forster; Wilson, Briers; Hilton, Farrar, Nutley, Gillies, Knott, Wainwright. Substitutes used: McCurrie, Causey, Highton, Hanger.

St Helens: Atcheson; Smith, Iro, Tuilagi, Sullivan; Long, Wellens; Perelini, Cunningham, Davidson, Joynt, Nickle, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: O'Neill, Matautia, Price, Hall.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).