Rugby League: Saints have too many weapons

St Helens 50 Salford 20
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The Independent Online
The most impressive thing about St Helens' overwhelming Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final victory over Salford on Saturday was that it was achieved without major contributions from many of their potential match winners, writes Dave Hadfield.

Bobbie Goulding, the mainspring of their success last season, was suspended. Paul Newlove and Apollo Perelini were, by their standards, subdued at Wigan, while little was seen of the counter-attacking threat of Steve Prescott. But Saints are so full of attacking menace that there was a queue of others waiting to step into the spotlight.

Goulding's replacement at scrum-half, the 18-year-old Lee Briers, knows he will have to stand aside for the final when the club captain has served his time.

"He won't have any qualms about stepping aside for Bobbie in the final," Shaun McRae, the Saints' coach, said. "But what he has shown us is that we have a good player if we ever have problems with Bobbie through injury."

Briers did indeed have a thoroughly effective match, moving the ball wide in typical St Helens style as well as kicking six goals.

The loss of Scott Gibbs with his move back to rugby union last year was widely supposed to represent a crucial weakening of Saints' backline. It has not turned out that way because, without resorting to the cheque book, they have found a ready-made replacement on their own staff.

Alan Hunte has developed a new solidity in his play since becoming a full-time centre and it was also his tries - the first two of a hat-trick that sprang from the quality of his link with Karle Hammond - that knocked Salford out of their stride early in the game.

The underdogs managed to stay in touch until just before half-time but a series of defensive mistakes fatally undermined their efforts. They battled well enough in the middle, but were hopelessly outgunned as soon as the ball went wide, which, Saints being Saints, it did frequently.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Hunte, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Briers; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, Morley, Hammond. Substitutes used: Pickavance, Matautia, McVey, Northey.

Salford: Rogers; Sini, Naylor, McAvoy, Coussons; Blakeley, Watson; Platt, Edwards, Eccles, Forber, Cartwight, Hulme. Substitutes used: Savelio, Randall, Faimalo, Martin.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

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