Rugby League: Saints' final thrust

 

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The Independent Online

St Helens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

Leeds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

St Helens will face Wigan for the sixth time this season after breaking a deadlock that lasted almost an hour of a gripping Stones Bitter premiership semi-final yesterday.

The match was heading for the rarity of extra-time when the substitute, Gus O'Donnell, landed a 59th-minute drop goal with his third attempt. That point was all Saints needed to propel them towards victory and a date with their bogey team at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Within two minutes, Shane Cooper had sold an outrageous dummy to trick his way over for a try which Paul Loughlin converted and St Helens were 7-0 ahead.

Leeds, who defended doggedly for the first hour and looked dangerous on the break, were still not out of it. Simon Irving landed a penalty after a fight that saw Ellery Hanley and Bernard Dwyer sent to the sin bin and then a marvellous break by Andy Gregory should have produced a try for Jim Fallon.

However, despite his size and obvious power, Fallon failed to go for the corner with sufficient determination and David Lyon, who had twice previously stopped Hanley in equally threatening positions, tackled him into touch at the flag.

Almost immediately, Leeds paid for that failure, Phil Veivers and Gary Connolly handled skilfully to send Alan Hunte in for the try that ended Leeds' hopes of salvaging something from the season.

Loughlin added the goal and a penalty after Garry Schofield had pushed Sonny Nickle to make the winning margin far more comfortable than had seemed likely for most of the game.

Although Saints enjoyed the bulk of the possession and the territory in the first half, the visitors, with a stiff breeze behind them, were always threatening on the counter-attack.

Gregory's reverse pass to Alan Tait would have produced a try if Hanley had not knocked on Tait's kick near the line. The first of Lyon's try-saving tackles was needed to keep Hanley out after Paul Dixon's pass had released Schofield.

As the second half wore on, Saints, with George Mann and Chris Joynt running strongly, looked the fresher, fitter side. Whether they can prevent Wigan achieving a unique grand slam of all the major domestic trophies is another matter.

St Helens: Lyon; Hunte, Connolly, Loughlin (O'Donnell, 37), Sullivan; Ropati, Griffiths (Loughlin, 51); Neill (Veivers, 43), Dwyer, Mann, Joynt, Nickle, Cooper.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Irving; Schofield, Gregory; Molloy, Lowes, Dixon, Goodway (Harland, 66, Holroyd, 76), Mercer, Hanley.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).

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