Rugby League: Saints alive to the danger in a high-scoring spree

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The Independent Online
St Helens. . . .34

Halifax. . . . .25

ST HELENS' bid to salvage something from a season which promised so much but had failed to deliver got off to a successful if uneven start in a high-scoring Premiership first-round tie last night, writes Dave Hadfield.

In a match played in a slightly premature end-of-season atmosphere, St Helens made heavy weather of getting their noses in front. They had two potential try-scoring breaks ruled out for forward passes before a below-strength Halifax took a surprise lead.

The young centre Damien Pickles, in his first-team debut, did the trick. Picking up a loose ball after Mike McLean had lost possession, he wriggled over at the foot of a post to leave Paul Bishop an easy kick.

Saints replied with a first try for the club by Gos O'Donnell. The scrum-half put in a kick ahead and took advantage of Halifax's attempt to obstruct him rather than deal with the danger. Loughlin added the goal that put St Helens level, but Bishop edged Halifax back in front with a drop goal.

Saints were applying all the pressure but though Halifax's defence often appeared to be on the point of snapping, they scrambled well and Saints had to settle for creeping ahead with a Loughlin penalty after McLean had strayed offside.

Halifax, without four first-choice backs, could still have been ahead at half-time had it not been for O'Donnell's try-saving tackle on the runaway Henry Sharp.

Saints finally seemed to be stretching out in front when Loughlin capitalised on a fine piece of work by George Mann to score 90 seconds after the break and he added the goal from the touchline. Two minutes later, however, plucky Halifax were back in it, Bishop's pass sending in Gary Divorty, the goal again putting them within a point.

The impressive Chris Joynt put Saints back in control, one of his driving runs allowing Jonathan Griffiths to tumble in for a try, again improved by Loughlin. When Jonathan Neill forced his way over from close range soon after, Saints began to look comfortable. Even then, Halifax came back, Divorty scoring his second when he caught Bishop's high kick.

Another Joynt run provided David Lyon with the fifth Saints try. Loughlin completed a perfect performance with a seventh goal from as many shots before John Bentley wrapped up the fun with a long-range effort for Halifax.

St Helens: Lyon; Hunte, Ropati, Loughlin, Sullivan; Griffiths (Riley, 75), O'Donnell; Neill, Dwyer, Mann, Joynt, Nickle (Cowan, 36; Nickle, 64), Cooper.

Halifax: Bentley; Richardson, Pickles, Litherland (Hill, 57; Robinson, 72), Sharp; Bailey, Bishop; Harrison, Southernwood, Fogerty, Lord, McLean, Divorty.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).