Rugby League: Saints extend their cup record

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Featherstone Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

St Helens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

ST HELENS, the League leaders, maintained their record of clearing the first hurdle in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup every year since 1985, but only after overcoming stout resistance at Featherstone.

An inspired spell of 20 points in 12 minutes dragged Saints back into yesterday's match after they had trailed 16-4 early in the second half. Even then Featherstone, looking anything but a Second Division side, fought back to come within an ace of snatching the game again at the end.

Playing down Post Office Road's famous slope, Featherstone built up a well-deserved early lead. An inside pass from Brett Daunt sent Martin Pearson in for a try he converted himself after only six minutes. Five minutes later a long ball from Brendon Tuuta and an unsuccessful bid for an interception by Les Quirk allowed Owen Simpson in at the corner.

With their forwards consistently making ground and Saints committing a series of handling errors, Featherstone remained in control until three minutes before half- time, when Gary Connolly twisted and turned out of Rovers' tackles to score a psychologically valuable try.

Not that it had any immediate effect on Featherstone. Five minutes after the break, driving runs by Wayne Taekata and Mark Wilson set up the position for Ian Smales and Ikram Butt to give Paul Newlove the chance to demonstrate his strength by carrying two tacklers over the try-line on his back.

When Smales, kicking in place of the injured Pearson, landed the conversion, it seemed Featherstone might have done enough and had Daunt's attempt at a drop goal soon after not been charged down they would have been within sight of the winning post.

As it was, a series of penalties in their own 25 weakened their grip on the game. Tea Ropati fed David Lyon for a try after Featherstone had been penalised for offside. A ruling that Rovers had not played the ball properly let the same combination in for another. Paul Loughlin, who converted both tries, added a penalty in between after Sonny Nickle had appeared to drop the ball.

When Bernard Dwyer found a gap and Loughlin again added the goal, Saints seemed safe. But Featherstone struck back with Simpson's second and were still pressing at the end of a memorable cup tie.

Featherstone Rovers: Bibb; Butts, Manning, Newlove, Simpson; Pearson (Maloney, 36), Daunt; Burton (Casey, 22; Burton 61), Wilson, Taekata, Price (Casey, 71), Smales, Tuuta.

St Helens: Lyon; Quirk, Connolly, Loughlin, Hunte; Ropati, Cooper (Griffiths, 77); Neill (Harrison, 27), Dwyer, Ward, Nickle, Mann, Joynt.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).