Saints launch 'dream team' on Widnes

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The Independent Online
With impeccable timing, St Helens put their "dream team" threequarter line on to the field for the first time in today's Challenge Cup semi- final against Widnes at Wigan, writes Dave Hadfield.

Alan Hunte's return after 10 months allows Saints to field the back line they envisaged when they broke the world transfer record for Paul Newlove last year.

It looks full of tries, so it is no wonder that Widnes, bidding to become the first club from outside the top division to reach a Wembley final, have been putting the emphasis on defence this week.

Perhaps the player with the most demanding job is their Australian centre, Mike Pechey, who will mark Newlove. "I know I'm going to have my hands full, because he is a first-class player," Pechey said. "But I haven't thought too much about him, beyond thinking that I want to give him some problems as well.''

If Saints' attacking prowess is beyond question then the issue of how they will handle being Cup favourites is more problematic. The absence of Wigan from the equation gives them the most inviting of opportunities, but it also puts extra pressure on them to succeed.

Their coach, Shaun McRae, has discouraged any mention of Wembley in the build-up to the semi-final. "I just think it's premature. We have got a job to do for 80 minutes and that is what we need to focus upon," he said.

McRae showed what a demanding taskmaster he can be by publicly criticising his captain, Bobbie Goulding, after most observers thought that he had played brilliantly against Salford in the last round.

All the signs are that Goulding has reacted positively to his coach's remarks, which he has not interpreted as a demand to rein in his natural instincts. No coach in his right mind would want to regiment Goulding, but McRae seems to be seeking an extra layer of cool calculation from him.

Widnes know that, if they allow him the space Salford did, he will destroy them. And if the former Widnes player, Karle Hammond, can get that all- singing, all-dancing back line moving, they will finish the job.

Widnes can combat this through their forwards, who, despite a lack of big names, have shown that they are capable of rising to a big occasion. That, in turn, throws the spotlight on Saints' pack, still a few notches behind their backs in reputation. One prop, Apollo Perelini, was outstanding against Salford, but equally significant today could be how the 18-year- old Andy Leatham copes with the situation.

Kurt Sorensen has resigned as coach of Workington, whose future is uncertain after the collapse of a takeover bid.

Barrie McDermott, the Leeds and Great Britain prop, has been charged with criminal damage and obstructing the police after becoming the first person in the country to be arrested using a CS gas spray.

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