Rugby League: Saints savour the first blow

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The Independent Online
St Helens. .17

Wigan. .0

THE unaccustomed bliss of depriving Wigan of a trophy - the CIS Insurance Charity Shield - will not delude St Helens about the task involved in the season ahead. A slow start has become par for the course for Wigan; this was not so much slow as static and even without hitting their fluent best, Saints took advantage.

Two players in new roles were at the heart of the success. Augustine O'Donnell, signed in the close season from Wigan, had a tidy and constructive game at scrum-half and comfortably out-pointed his old club's new acquisition, Martin Crompton.

He also dropped the goal that got the scoreboard moving after an opening 17 minutes which had a crowd of Lancastrians sprinkled with Geordies wondering just when the new season was going to start.

The other player to stand out was Alan Hunte, a winger for Great Britain on tour this summer, but switched to full-back when Phil Veivers injured his groin in the pre- match warm-up. He handled confidently under pressure and ran with determination to put Saints' game on a solid foundation.

O'Donnell's drop goal was followed by an untidy St Helens try, Shane Cooper barging through a weak defence - in which too many Wigan players seem to be recuperating from their trip to the southern hemisphere - to score close enough to the posts for Tea Ropati, the nearest thing to a goal-kicker in the St Helens side, to add the extras.

A kick ahead from Bernard Dwyer produced a knock-on from the normally reliable Steve Hampson that led to the second St Helens try. Straight from the scrum, O'Donnell ran wide and delivered a neat inside pass for Anthony Sullivan to score.

A minute from half-time, Saints virtually tied up the game. There seemed little danger when Ropati took a pass from Cooper, but a shimmy and a sidestep took him through a defence that again showed a lack of appetite for the job, and he added the goal himself.

The St Helens coach, Mike McClennan, admitted that they had uncharacteristically closed down the game in the second half, while his Wigan counterpart, John Monie, said that his side had deserved to lose after such a sub-standard show in the first half.

Monie did not want to dwell on the loss of players like Gene Miles and Andy Gregory, but the announcement of an overseas signing to bring the squad back up to their customary strength is awaited with interest. For the time being, the one positive feature of the game for Wigan was the reappearance of Andy Goodway, a year after breaking his right arm in this fixture.

St Helens: Hunte; Riley, Connolly, Ropati, Sullivan; Griffiths, O'Donnell (Quirk, 76); Neill, Dwyer, Ward, Harrison, Mann (Forber, 25), Cooper.

Wigan: Hampson; Panapa (Lydon, 70), Bell, Lydon (Myers, 56), Offiah; Botica, Crompton; Lucas (Skerrett, 58), Cassidy, Skerrett (Goodway, 26), Betts, McGinty, Clarke.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

Martin Offiah and Kelvin Skerrett, two of Wigan's Great Britain Test players, may face disrepute charges after failing to collect their Charity Shield losers' medals. Both men are likely to be asked to appear before the Rugby League's board of directors to explain their conduct.