Halifax. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
ST HELENS went six points ahead of Wigan at the top of the First Division last night - although they have played three more matches - but not before Halifax had taken them the full distance in a gripping game.
Malcolm Reilly's first match in charge of Halifax saw them take an early lead and come within inches of snatching the game back in the latter stages.
Saints had rung a few false alarms with some typically adventurous passing before Halifax shocked them in the ninth minute. Paul Bishop's long pass found Greg Austin and Mark Preston went round Les Quirk with embarrasing ease to score in the corner. Bishop, the former St Helens scrum-half, kicked the conversion from the touchline.
The unexpected deficit stung Saints into trying a little too hard to force the telling pass, until Bishop gifted them two points by displaying the less useful side of his repertoire. He was penalised for dissent while Halifax were in possession and David Lyon obliged with the kick. Bishop's kick-off, which went dead, put Saints straight back on the attack, and a pass conjured out of the tackle by Kevin Ward allowed Shane Cooper to send Sonny Nickle powering over for a try which Lyon improved.
Halifax's tendency to give away too many penalties kept them under pressure, and Nickle punished them again four minutes after his first try, rescuing Bernard Dwyer's loose pass from the ground and using all his strength to struggle over.
On the stroke of half-time, Halifax brought themselves back into the match, the pace of Preston causing the initial problems on a weaving run infield, John Bentley then leaving Alan Hunte for dead on the opposite wing. Bishop put Halifax level with another magnificent goal, then put them ahead two minutes into the second half after Cooper had been penalised.
With the strong wind now behind them Saints poured forward, and forward power eventually did the trick, Ward forcing his way over from Cooper's pass, Lyon once more adding the goal.
Halifax were unwilling to buckle and went close on both wings, Preston actually getting over the try-line but failing to ground the ball.
A penalty in front of the sticks for a play-the-ball offence allowed Bishop to cut the margin to two points 12 minutes from time. Quirk then had to throw himself on Bishop's stabbed kick to stop a match- winning try as Saints clung on.
St Helens: Lyon; Quirk, Connolly, McCracken, Hunte; Ropati, S Cooper; Neill (Harrison, 51), Dwyer, Ward, Mann, Nickle, Joynt. Substitute not used: Griffiths.
Halifax: D Cooper; Bentley, Hallas, Austin, Preston; Bailey, Bishop; K Harrison, Southernwood, Stuart, Lord (Hancock, 68), Perrett, Divorty. Substitute not used: Robinson.
Referee: R Whitfield (Widnes).
WIGAN have added three first- team players - Joe Lydon, Sam Panapa and Andrew Farrar - to a reserve squad for the World Sevens in Sydney from 5 to 7 February that had led the organisers to withdraw their invitation. And they have won the Rugby League's backing to play Bradford Northern in the League the same weekend.
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