Rugby League: Saints triumph amid turmoil

St Helens 74 Hull Sharks 16
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The Independent Online
ST HELENS' BIGGEST win of the season did absolutely nothing to placate supporters venting their anger at the suspension of their coach, Ellery Hanley, and leaving no doubt which side they are on in this ugly conflict.

Hostile banners, virtually constant hostile chanting and a post-match vigil in which a couple of thousand fans refused to leave the terraces showed what a running sore this has become for the club.

The targets were various; the Saints board and, equally predictably, the club's football's executive, Eric Hughes. There was also the unique spectacle of a physio being abused every time she ran on to the field, because Jeanette E Smith happens to be Hughes's girlfriend, while the ground announcer brought fury down on his head by telling spectators that it was "nice to see that the education system is alive and well in St Helens". Civil war produces some strange victims.

"It's a pity the ground reacted the way they did, but they're entitled to do so if they pay their money and come through the turnstiles," said the Saints chairman, Howard Morris.

"But St Helens is bigger than the board and bigger than Ellery and will be around for a lot longer than either."

The situation became increasingly bizarre as, with the fans staging their largely silent sit-in, Hughes was warned to stay out of sight beneath the stand for his own safety.

He had not been surprised by his reception, he said. "But I'm happy because I know in my mind what's gone on.

"It's a sad state of affairs when Jeanette is dragged in, but my conscience is clear."

Morris paid tribute to the professionalism of the players in getting on with the job in such trying circumstances, but one of them, Paul Sculthorpe left no room for prevarication over their view of the argument.

"We're all totally supportive of Ellery and want him back," he said."I thought the way we played today spoke volumes for what he's done for us."

Amid an extra security presence that seemed at one time to include Darth Vader, it was an unreal atmosphere in which to play rugby. For 20 minutes Super League's bottom side held their own, but then Richard Horne was harshly sent to the sin-bin for holding down in a tackle and Hull's defence fell apart.

During his 10-minute absence, Saints ran in four tries and 22 points, with Paul Atcheson's second leading the way, followed by Tommy Martyn with a try to go with his 11 goals, Sean Long and Kieron Cunningham.

Chris Joynt and Anthony Sullivan, with the first of his four, kept the scoreboard moving at a rate that suggested that Leeds' 86 points against Huddersfield on Friday could be supplanted as the Super League record after only two days, although Horne and Andrew Purcell, the combination that had brought Hull's first try, repeated the trick before half-time.

Paul Newlove's 80-yard interception and further tries from Long and Fereti Tuilagi accompanied Sullivan's second-half hat-trick. The former Saint, Simon Booth, got one for the battered visitors but for his old club and its supporters a bigger game, a greater test of nerve, goes on.

St Helens: Atcheson; C Smith, Wellens, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Long; O'Neill, Cunningham, Davidson, Joynt, Nickle, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Tuilagi, Matautia, Price, Hall.

Hull Sharks: J Smith; Nolan, Hallas, Campbell, Lee; Purcell, Horne; Harrison, King, Craven, Leatham, Schultz, Roberts. Substitutes used: Booth, Barrow, Ireland, Cooke.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).

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