Rugby League: Ward returns to revive title race

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Warrington. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

St Helens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

THE RAW power of Kevin Ward, so badly missed recently, turned this game around for St Helens yesterday and kept their First Division title hopes alive, writes Dave Hadfield.

While Ward was still shaking off the rust from his six-match absence with a broken thumb, Saints went behind and looked set for a defeat that would have virtually ended their chances of catching Wigan.

A spectacular Warrington opening put them 11-4 down to tries by Tony Thorniley and Mark Forster plus a goal by Chris Rudd and a drop-goal from Greg Mackey. Warrington would have been further ahead if they had taken all their chances, but Saints showed some signs of life with a try by Alan Hunte after Gary Connolly and Chris Joynt had driven Duane Mann back over his own try-line.

They badly needed inspiration, and found it in the 32nd minute when Ward's sheer strength enabled him to draw the Warrington defence and serve the ball up for Connolly. Paul Loughlin's goal reduced the gap to one point and Saints were ahead by half-time when Shane Cooper's long ball to Tea Ropati and his scramble for the return pass brought a try to which Loughlin again added a goal.

A minute after the break, Ward carried three tacklers over the line for the score that made the game safe for Saints. Loughlin kicked four more goals and Ropati claimed a fifth St Helens try from Hunte's break before Allan Bateman went over for a last- minute consolation for the Wire.

It was a fierce and exciting derby, especially in the first half when Bernard Dwyer and Mann were sent to the sin-bin after feelings boiled over.

But the abiding impression was of how convincing St Helens looked with Ward and, in the second half, George Mann back in action. With those two making ground at vital stages, so many of the other aspects of Saints' play finally clicked into place. Their match at Wigan's Central Park on Good Friday once more looks an interesting afternoon out.

Warrington: Penny; Thorniley, Bateman, Rudd, Forster (Bennett, 67); Shelford (Chambers, 75), Mackey; Harmon, D Mann, Chambers (Richards, 69), Sanderson, Richards (Darbyshire, 42), Cullen.

St Helens: Lyon (Riley, 69); Riley (Sullivan, 40), Connolly, Loughlin, Hunte; Ropati, Griffiths; Neill (G Mann, 39), O'Donnell (Neill, 74), Ward, Joynt, Dwyer, Cooper.

Referee: C Steele (Dalton-in-Furness).