Rugby League: Smith's gaffes are grand gift to Bradford

Bradford Bulls 40 St Helens 4
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The Independent Online
THE DIRECT route to the Super League Grand Final took Bradford right through the middle of St Helens as they demolished them with ruthless style at Odsal last night. The Bulls had the game won within the first nine minutes as the opening stages turned into a personal nightmare for the Saints winger Chris Smith.

Smith has been one of the Saints' successes this season, but he lost the ball twice in five minutes, first, in a tackle and then by knocking on a simple kick, to pave the way for tries from Stuart Fielden and Scott Naylor. The Bulls never looked back after that perfect start.

They were soon even further ahead, Tevita Vaikona knocking back Steve McNamara's high kick and Naylor picking up to send Henry Paul over. The elder of the Paul brothers quickly claimed his second, taking a pass from McNamara to plough through another gaping hole in the St Helens defence. With McNamara kicking all his conversions and adding a penalty, the game was effectively over, although Paul Newlove did get one back for a Saints with a strong run on to Sonny Nickle's pass before half time.

Saints, however, had never won at Odsal since the start of Super League four years ago and it was going to take a miracle in the second half to change that dismal record.

There was no miracle. McNamara tagged on another penalty and then launched a kick that made it an unwanted treble for Smith as he dropped the ball to allow Michael Withers to score.

Soon after that, he was replaced, which might have been a good thing for what was left of his battered confidence, but Saints' coach, Ellery Hanley, insisted that he still had faith in the player. "I have great confidence in Chris Smith," he said. "He has played tremendously well for me all season, but all players have bad days at the office."

Saints' collective bad day continued with a mistake on the other flank, Anthony Sullivan losing the ball and Paul Deacon scooping up to send Vaikona 80 yards for the most spectacular of the evening's tries. Deacon's goal completed a scoreline that underlined how difficult to beat Bradford are going to be at Old Trafford on 9 October, but their coach, Matthew Elliott, insisted that the simple fact of the win was what that mattered.

"Semi-finals are about winning, whether it's by one point or one thousand," he said. "The opportunity to put two weeks into the preparation really paid off. The guys were fantastic, so fresh."

Saints must now pull themselves back together for the visit of Castleford, the shock team of the competition, next Sunday. Hanley played down fear of psychological damage from this thrashing. "We'll be coming back next week all fired up," he insisted. "We're not that bad a side, but we got off to a very poor start and Bradford grew an extra arm and an extra leg."

Hanley was adamant that his first-choice scrum-half, Sean Long, would not be available against Castleford. That raises the question of whether this same group of players can lift their game sufficiently to seize their second chance of making the Grand Final.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Vaikona, Naylor, Withers, Pryce; H Paul, R Paul; Fielden, Lowes, Anderson, Boyle, Dwyer, McNamara. Substitutes used: Deacon, McAvoy, Peacock, McDermott.

St Helens: Atcheson; Smith, Iro, Newlove, Sullivan; Sculthorpe, Martyn; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Clark, Nickle, Joynt. Substitutes used: Tuilagi, Hoppe, Matautia, Wellens,

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).

Hunslet on the rise, page 2