Rugby Union: O'Donnell keeps the Saints alive

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St Helens. .12

Warrington. .4

AN off-key St Helens got the victory they needed to stay serenely clear of Wigan, their championship rivals. But on a night when they were loose to the point of being formless, they would have been in deep trouble against a side that took their chances better, writes Dave Hadfield.

Warrington suffered from a familiar problem in the first quarter, spending plenty of time on the attack without scoring enough points.

Tony Thorniley put them ahead with a penalty on eight minutes. But Mark Forster and Thorniley had good try-scoring chances only to be stopped by last-ditch tackles. Kevin Ellis missed an easy drop goal and Thorniley an equally comfortable penalty.

Saints, looking slightly disjointed without their captain and playmaker, Shane Cooper, had almost scored with their first real attack, Les Quirk being pulled back after a forward pass. With their second, Paul Loughlin took David Lyon's pass to score the opening try.

Loughlin missed the goal and a long-range penalty, before Warrington continued their wasteful ways with a touchdown disallowed after a forward pass from Neil Kenyon to Duane Mann.

With Tea Ropati, their outstanding performer of the season so far, curiously out of touch, Saints could not strike their normal fluent form with any consistency. They extended their lead, however, when George Mann took the ball down the right, Loughlin was stopped on the opposite wing and Chris Joynt struggled over from acting half-back. Loughlin sliced his kick badly.

Warrington hit back quickly, Shelford landing the goal when Sonny Nickle held Ellis. However, Loughlin cancelled it out with his first goal after Kevin Ward had been robbed of the ball.

The substitute, Gus O'Donnell, stretched that lead to seven points with a drop goal and popped over another for good measure five minutes from time. Saints, albeit on one of their least distinguished nights, were safe.

St Helens: Lyon; Hunte, Connolly, Loughlin, Quirk; Ropati, Griffiths; Ward, Dwyer, G Mann (O'Donnell, 66), Harrison (Veivers, 59), Nickle, Joynt.

Warrington: Penny; Kenyon, Bateman, Thorniley, Forster; Ellis, Mackey; Chambers (Tees, 56), D Mann, Jackson (Harmon, 34), Cullen, Sanderson (Sanderson, 59), Shelford.

Referee: I Ollerton (Wigan).