Rugby League: Tough fight for Saints

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The Independent Online
ST HELENS survived a scare as they held off resilient Salford 23-10 to keep the pressure on Bradford at the top of the Super League.

It was a far from impressive day's work from Ellery Hanley's side and the St Helens coach paid tribute to Salford, who were made to fight all the way by a side battling for survival at the opposite end of the table. Hanley said: "We can't get carried away with that result but I want to commend Salford. After a game in midweek it was a tremendous effort and to be quite fair, if they'd drawn with us or won the game, they would have deserved it.

"They have great offloaders. They are probably the best side at making runs and changing the angles. We didn't shut down their offloads. It meant we had burned up more fuel and we didn't control the football. It began to look at the end like it was us who had played in midweek."

Hanley's opposite number, John Harvey, was delighted with his side despite their second defeat in five days. Harvey felt the character of his team, which held Saints at 10-10 early in the second half, should be strong enough to ensure survival.

"Things are looking up," Hanley said. "We are now holding the ball with a lot more confidence. We have three games left and although they are going to be tough they are not against sides like Wigan and Bradford."

St Helens, meanwhile, have a worry over Chris Joynt. The second row was placed on report for a wild tackle on Steve Blakeley in the second half and was lucky to escape a red card.

The signs had looked ominous for Salford when the St Helens scrum half Paul Wellens gave his side the lead after just three minutes.

However, John Harvey's side refused to read the script and gave as good as they got and better for the remaining 77 minutes.

Indeed the Reds were back in the game six minutes later with a Martin Crompton try. Saints' second row Sonny Nickle held up a strong challenge from full-back Stuart Littler on the line but Crompton undid the visitors on the next play when he ran through to touchdown his own chip.

Two Long penalties gave Saints a cushion but a late goal from Blakeley saw the home side go in trailing just 10-8 at half time.

Salford returned after the break in much the same mood and their greater enthusiasm deserved more than the two points they managed. Half backs Crompton and Blakeley combined beautifully as Salford looked like running Saints ragged. Blakeley levelled with his third goal but another chance to cross had already gone begging when South African Mark Johnson knocked on in the shadow of the posts.

The shock of almost falling behind seemed to stir Saints into life with Long inspirational in their recovery. The Great Britain half back almost had Anthony Sullivan in for what would have given him a Super League record of tries in 10 consecutive games.

Sullivan played his part in a move which saw Tommy Martyn throw the ball out wide for Steve Hall to crash over for the crucial try. Long's touchline conversion went over off the upright and Martyn virtually sealed the points with a drop goal. Things then got worse for Salford when Craig Makin was sent off for a bad tackle on Paul Davidson and when Long crossed in the final minute, his conversion was the last kick of the match.

London Broncos heaped more misery on bottom club Huddersfield Giants with a resounding 40-4 victory at The Stoop. Now they are closing in on the dreaded 1,000 points conceded mark.