Rugby League: St Helens move to the top

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St Helens. .64

Leigh. . . . 9

ST HELENS went back to the top of the First Division with a victory that not only avenged their surprise defeat in November but also handed Leigh the heaviest loss in their long history.

Leigh's win at Hilton Park seemed to have badly damaged Saints' championship hopes two months ago, but last night they took full advantage of Wigan's slip against Warrington on Tuesday to move two points clear.

It took only a few minutes for Saints to show that lightning was not going to strike twice in this fixture. After Paul Loughlin had given them the lead with a penalty, Chris Joynt went over for their first try.

Saints, producing the same brilliant handling that destroyed Wigan on Boxing Day, scored at the rate of a point a minute in the first half.

Tea Ropati, Loughlin and Gary Connolly ripped Leigh apart with some dazzling skills, wingers Alan Hunte and Les Quirk benefiting with two tries each. Ropati scored one himself and if George Mann's pass after a magnificent run looked forward that hardly seemed relevant.

Connolly's glorious break down the wing set up Sonny Nickle for Saints' seventh try immediately before half-time, Loughlin adding his sixth goal.

Andy Ruane registered a drop goal for Leigh, but without their injured captain, John Pendlebury, they lacked the craft to threaten to score by any other means.

Pendlebury's stand-in as captain, Tim Street, showed Leigh's frustration when he was sin-binned for pulling back Phil Veivers on one of Saints' endless series of attacks.

Saints visibly eased up after the break and Leigh salvaged a trace of self-respect with tries from Simon Baldwin, after Stuart Pugsley had gone virtually the length of the field with an interception, and David Hill. In between, Saints recovered a little of their urgency for Joynt to claim his second. Nickle became another double try-scorer with a lunge through some weak tackling, and Hunte won the race to be the first to his hat-trick when Gus O'Donnell and Loughlin sent him away down the left wing.

David Lyon then went over for the try that equalled Leigh's worst defeat. Street achieved the rare distinction of being sin-binned for the second time before Hunte's fourth try broke the record set when Salford beat them 60-8 in 1940.

St Helens: Lyon; Quirk, Connolly (Griffiths, 47), Loughlin, Hunte; Ropati, Cooper (O'Donnell, 64); Harrison, Dwyer, Mann, Veivers, Nickle, Joynt.

Leigh: Mahon; Booth, D Ruane, Martin, Hill (Tanner, 58); Donohue, Pugsley; Hansen, A Ruane (Elias, 67), Street, Elias (Costello, 50), Collier, Baldwin.

Referee: P Gilmour (Workington).