Rugby League: Saints are frustrated

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The Independent Online
Castleford. 16

St Helens. .6

CASTLEFORD overcame their foibles and fumbles last night to finish convincing winners of a match which will have a significant bearing on who, if anyone, can stay the course with Wigan this season, writes Dave Hadfield.

Although always the dominant side, Castleford made problems for themselves in the first quarter with a series of indiscretions. Peter Coyne twice failed to find touch with penalties, they conceded too many penalties themselves and too often ruined promising moves with shoddy handling.

Lee Crooks, so constructive with the ball on his day, was the worst offender. After one of his fumbles St Helens were awarded two quick penalties from the scrum for David Lyon to kick the opening points from comfortable range.

Castleford broke with their bad habits on 25 minutes to go ahead with an unusual try. Coyne's switch of play 25 yards out looked too leisurely to catch out any defence, but Saints were found wanting down the left as Mike Ford and Tawera Nikau sent in Simon Middleton.

Crooks missed the goal, but, after Saints had survived a period of pressure in their own 25, John Harrison was caught offside and the Castleford captain put over the penalty.

A third failure to find touch by Coyne gave Saints an attacking chance just before half-time. Kevin Ward, bidding for second place to Crooks in the error count on a mistake-strewn night, knocked on to save Coyne more embarrassment.

Castleford threatened through Coyne and Nikau before Crooks showed what he can do when his hands obey instructions from his brain. Taking the ball from Ford, he released it perfectly for Tony Smith to race the last 20 yards for his 12th try of the season, most of them poached in precisely the same way. Crooks added a good goal to give his side a 10-point cushion.

Saints' frustration showed in a wild high tackle by Shane Cooper on St John Ellis. The referee was lenient in only awarding a penalty but Crooks's kick extracted two points worth of punishment.

The frustration deepened after Ford and Coyne sent Chris Watson striding through. Ward cuffed him down unceremoniously and Crooks kicked another penalty.

Paul Loughlin came on as substitute for St Helens in his first game since breaking his arm in Australia six months ago. Apart from an irrelevant last-minute try by Lyon, that was the only bright spot of the evening for Saints.

Castleford: Middleton; Ellis, Blackmore (Anderson, 57), Smith, Wray; Coyne, Ford; Crooks, Watson, Sampson (England, 68), Morrison, Ketteridge, Nikau.

St Helens: Lyon; Casey, Connolly, McCracken (Loughlin, 71), Quirk; Ropati, Cooper; Ward, Dwyer, Mann, Harrison (Nickle, 73), Nickle (O'Donnell, 25), Joynt.

Referee: I Ollerton (Wigan).