Saints v Bradford Bulls
The Saints went back to the top of the table and in the process made certain of a top three finish by beating the Bulls 22-18 for the first time this season at the third attempt.
Having lost in both a pre-season friendly and in the freezing mists of a Dudley Hill pea-souper the Saints were keen to make it third time lucky, writes Graham Henthorne.
And that’s exactly what they did but only just turning in a much below par performance.
They could and should have opened the scoring on seven minutes as quick hands put full back Tom Nisbet away on a 30 metre break. But a Ryan Horne grubber on the last was knocked on over the line by Sean Croston.
This, and a penalty, allowed the Bulls to go straight down the other end where standoff Rowan Milne dummied his way through the line for the score.
The Saints responded on 17 minutes when prop duo Alex Eckley and Callum Hazzard chased a Jack Welsby grubber forcing the error from the Bulls. From the scrum the ball was spread left and a miss pass from Welsby saw Kev Brown stroll into the corner.
But the Saints were inexplicably lethargic and profligate with possession and penalties piggy-backing the Bulls into their half. They were only dangerous when in the Saints 20 and extended their lead when poor tackling allowed the hooker to dummy his way over close to the line.
It looked as though the Saints were going to go in eight behind at the break but a piece of quick thinking from Welsby saw the stand-off go 60 metres under the posts.
Whilst five Bulls players were engaged in a bit of argy-bargy with Josh Simm, Welsby picked up the loose ball and crucially played to the whistle beating the cover to the posts.
The second half was slightly better as the Saints created numerous chances but couldn’t convert them all.
Ten minutes in and Welsby, having broken the line, was ankle-tapped from behind causing his pass to go astray and the chance was lost as winger John Hutchings was forced into touch on the last.
They finally took the lead on their next set but only after butchering another chance. Nisbet received the ball down the left and only had to choose to either pass or dummy and go. In the end he tamely found the tackle. Two tackles later and Jake Wingfield spared his blushes darting in from the play the ball after Jorge Lewtas was stopped short.
From the restart quick play the balls from the Saints started to show the Bulls tiredness and the game was there for the taking had Sam Royle not knocked with the line at his mercy.
As it was the Bulls took heart and retook the lead when stand-off Milne, easily their best, went 70 metres to score. As he outpaced the cover down the right Matty Foster showed the correct commitment covering from the opposite wing to almost prevent the try.
The touchline conversion put the visitor’s two points to the good and the Saints were finding it increasingly difficult to make them go away.
12 minutes from time it was that man Foster who scored the crucial try. A Royle drive and quick play the ball saw Hazzard charging at the retreating line. On the cusp of hitting the tackle he put a delightful short pass out to his left to his partner in crime Eckley who showed great presence of mind to commit the fullback before passing to Foster steaming up on his left.
There was still time for Welsby to miss the chance to put the game out of reach when he kept it instead of passing to Foster for his second. And for a mass brawl to result in a red card for the Bulls hooker and remarkably a yellow for Welsby for being his punch bag!
Foster and Kev Brown were probably the only two to come out of this with any credit. Massive improvements will have to happen before the Saints travel to Stanningley on Thursday to face the third placed Rhinos in the top of the table clash which will decide play off places.
Tries: Kev Brown (17), Jack Welsby (40), Jake Wingfield (54), Matty Foster (68).
Goals: Josh Simm 2 from 2, Callum Hazzard 1 from 2.
Tries: Rowan Milnes (9 & 62), Lochlan McGill (25).
Goals: Rowan Milnes 3 from 3.
Half Time: 10-12
Full Time: 22-18
1. Tom Nisbet; 22. Kev Brown, 19. Sean Croston, 4. Josh Simm, 5. John Hutchings; 6. Jack Welsby, 7. Ryan Horne; 8. Alex Eckley (C), 9. Jake Wingfield, 10. Callum Hazzard, 11. Chris Follin, 12. Sam Royle, 13. Joe Sharratt.
Subs: 14. Brandon O’Neill, 15. Ben Sims, 16. Jorge Lewtas, 17. Matty Foster.
1. Alix Stephenson; 2. Murphy Smith, 3. Elliott Culling, 4. Sam Smith, 5. Ryan Butterworth; 6. Rowan Milnes, 7. Cobi Green; 8. Oliver Wilson, 14. Lochlan McGill, 16. Jake Lightowler, 11. Matthew Storton, 12. Lawrence Okanga-Ajwang, 13. Ethan O’Hanlon.
Subs: 9. Thomas Doyle, 10. Keelan Foster, 15. Ebon Scurr, 23. Bradley Gallagher.