St.Helens Academy will take on Wigan Warriors in a home Academy Grand Final, after beating Hull FC 28-8 in the Academy Semi-Final.
📜 Academy team news is in!
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 17, 2023
The Saints got proceedings underway but on the first defensive set late in the count gave away a penalty for a high tackle. The Black & Whites slowly made their way towards the hosts’ line before pulling the ball right with numbers and the centre Roman Dawson crashed it for the opening points, just two minutes in, and the kick was missed from the right edge.
Saints with their first real attack on the back of an offside penalty were pushing the visitors back before they conceded two penalties inside their own twenty. A short ball from Ciaran Nolan to Alfie Sinclair next to the sticks got the Red V on the board and Max McGucken added the extras, 6-4, with seven minutes played.
Hull wasted a chance with numbers on the left edge, a knock on allowed Saints to threaten again. Calmly on our left it was worked, and then the first try scorer Sinclair turned creator for Jonny Vaughan with a deft inside ball to the centre. Vaughan still had plenty to do 35m out, evading the fullback to score. McGucken knocked over the kick to make it 12-4 just before the fifteen minute mark.
Two bits of brilliance almost unlocked the Airlie Birds defence again, from a scrum Ben Will with no space cut back inside to almost make it to the line but short. Then after working the ball all the way to the other side, Vaughan threw a big pass out Owen Dagnall who dived in at the corner – but the referee judged the pass forward.
Our hosting Saints kept Hull in their own half before Harry Robertson lifted a kick to the left corner and then an outrageous offload from Dagnall in the air gave it to Vaughan to crash in for another try. McGucken made his first miss of the afternoon, yielding a score of 16-4.
The game went into a grind with both sides trading sets a little better, Derek Traynor’s youngsters almost got a fourth score but a good take from a grabber from the Hull fullback stopped the challenge. A penalty allowed the visitors to go to the other end, but good goal line defence stopped the Black & Whites getting a score with five minutes left in the half.
Hull as the break approached on their own line went down to 12 men with Jack Horsfield sent to the bin for ten due to a late hit. Saints wanted to try make it pay quickly but Bailey Pemberton over the line with three Hull men on him lost the ball trying to ground the ball.
Saints would close out the opening stanza with some scintillating play, Robertson with a half break offloaded, Dayon Sambou drove it closer to the 10m line before Ben Will finished it off in the corner with a beautiful dive. McGucken couldn’t add the kick, 20-4 as the sides went into the changing rooms.
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 17, 2023
The second half began with a real arm wrestle between the two teams, plenty of better defence on show from the Saints, highlighted with keeping Hull inside their own 30m.
Saints first chance of the half came off a great break from Sambou, but he just slipped trying to step the fullback. Dagnall on the wing went for a kick and Vaughan chased well to force a goal line drop out. Again, the Red V had the Black & Whites moving backwards but couldn’t yet add to the score line but did make them come off their own line for a set.
After a six again late in the count, Hull moved the game to the Saints’ end and Vaughan who forced a GLDO minutes earlier now needed to pat out a short grubber to stop a visitor four pointer.
The Saints then turned the pressure back again, a rogue offload allowed Saints six more tackles. The two props Stephens and Sinclair caused havoc around the middle before being stopped, before good shape to pass the ball to Vaughan saw him fend off a Hull man and get a hat trick, reaching out strongly to get it too. Max McGucken couldn’t add the kick, making it 24-4 just before the hour mark.
Following a bad tackle from Hull which left a Saints man down, a penalty was given and the Red V turned the screw. Stephens on the charge swatted away a defender, passed one handed to Vaughan who immediately threw it out to Dagnall for another leap into the corner and a score. McGucken just missed the kick, so 28-4 the score remained.
The Black & Whites showed some spirit heading into the final fifteen minutes, Saints thought they had taken a man into touch but the referee gave a dragging penalty and invited more pressure on our line. Mackenzie Harman avoided a Saints man in the line and sprinted 10m to get Hull’s first points of the half, but he couldn’t add the kick with it coming off the posts too, 28-8.
Hull would challenge again pushing Saints back onto their own line, a rare six again for not being square meant the Saints needed to scramble and Louie Roberts, as he did all afternoon, looked assured and took a kick to kill off a threat near our own line.
With intent into the final moments, Jonny Vaughan charged down a Hull kick and with the ball going loose he picked it up and passed for McGucken to dive in – however, the Hull kicker Sully Medforth stayed down so the try wasn’t given. Vaughan’s effort looked like it caused the ball to ricochet into the kicker’s face. After going through the appropriate checks, Medforth was up and came off the field with the Totally Wicked Stadium applauding him off.
The Saints had to deal with even more efforts on their own line, but Vaughan stopped their attack with a cool catch and broke to turn the pressure the other way. Jerry Carty almost broke the line to get a final Saints score, but short of the line and then Harry Robertson with time running out went for a drop goal but it was wide.
After a hard fought encounter, the referee blew the whistle, and the Saints booked their spot in the Academy Grand Final!
The Saints will face local rivals Wigan Warriors on Sunday, 24th September at the Totally Wicked Stadium, with the kick-off time to be confirmed shortly.
Starting 13: Louie Roberts, Ben Will, Dayon Sambou, Jonathon Vaughan, Owen Dagnall, Harry Robertson, Max McGucken, Noah Stephens, Ciaran Nolan, Alfie Sinclair, Harvey Braddish, Jake Davies, Leon Cowen
Interchanges: Bailey Pemberton, Daniel Frost, Sam Oakes, Jerry Carty
18th player: Decaon Swarbrick
Tries: Sinclair (7), Vaughan (14, 24, 59) , Will (39), Dganall (61)
Conversions: McGucken 2/6
Starting 13: Logan Moy, Callum Shaw, Roman Dawson, Ryan Westerman, Joe Ward, Jack Charles, Sully Medforth, Kye Armstrong, Jeylan Hodgson, Jude Thompson, Lennon Bursell, Will Kirby, Mackenzie Harman
Interchanges: Will Hutchinson, Lennon Clark, Owen Haldenby, Jack Horsfield
18th player: Ellis Lowthorpe
Tries: Dawson (2), Harman (66)
*Photo credit: Dave Lofthouse