Rugby League: Saints misery compounded by Bird

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The Independent Online
St Helens 32 Gateshead Thunder 36

BRADFORD ARE first into the Super League play-offs after Gateshead's last-gasp victory in a dramatic match at Knowsley Road yesterday. Saints' weary performance not only cost them their chance of finishing as league leaders, they might also be without their ever improving scrum-half, Sean Long, for the play-off series. Long damaged shoulder ligaments in the first half and could be out for up to six weeks.

Gateshead's hopes of making the top five might only have been academic even before this match, but there was no sign of that in their approach. Their leading try scorer, Matt Daylight, put them ahead after six minutes, profiting from quick passing by Kerrod Walters and Willie Peters.

Long's injury came in the build up to Chris Joint's first try, scored after the St Helens captain rescued Kevin Iro's pass from the floor and surged over. Walters set up Mick Jenkins for the Thunders' reply, while Paul Sculthorpe made it two tries apiece after Gateshead had been penalised for roughing up Paul Davidson.

The difference was that while Ian Herron had kicked his two goals, Tommy Martyn had missed both of his, as he did when Paul Newlove scored following Chris Smith's interception from Will Robinson.

Saints hit the front for the first time when Martyn did succeed with a penalty after Jenkins held down Sonny Nickle, and they seemed to be taking over when a sweeping attack ended with Joint claiming his second. But Gateshead remained defiant and Jenkins got his second from Robinson's pass. In the aftermath of that, a tense match finally boiled over, with Nickle and Daylight going to the sin bin.

Gateshead were further stretched when Jenkins went to the sin bin for holding on in the tackle, but the visitors still went ahead through Peters. When substitute David Maiden went over from Robinson's pass and Herron maintained his kicking accuracy to give them a 10-point lead, Saints were clearly in trouble. But the departure of Deon Bird, the third Thunder player to visit the sin bin, gave Saints new impetus, and tries from Newlove and Martyn put them back in front. But with two minutes to play, Robinson sent Bird over.

It was a victory which, sweet as it must be for Shaun McRae, has come too late to give Thunder anything but a theoretical chance of the play- offs. What it has done to Saints' prospects is a question that will be answered in the next few weeks.

St Helens: Tuilagi; Smith, Iro, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Long; Perilini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, Nickle, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Davidson, Stewart, Price.

Gateshead Thunder: Sammut; Herron, Bird, Collins, Daylight; Robinson, Peters; Felsch, Walters, Jenkins, Wilson, Maher, Grimaldi. Substitutes used: Maiden, Allwood.

Referee: A Smith (Castleford).