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Professional rugby league returned to Blackpool after a twelve years absence since the days of the Gladiators playing in the North West seaside town. But in a classic game of two halves St Helens, who fielded a combination of their under 18 and 21 squads plus Samoans Gray Viane and Dom Feaunati threatened to ruin the party as they led 16-4 at the interval. In the second half Blackpool scored sixteen unanswered points with the match winning try coming a minute from time which left the Saints no time to recover.
Before the game started there was a parade of past players to the crowd of 852 who gave them a great ovation and the new era at Bloomfield Road, and Paul Gamble the record appearance holder for Blackpool kicked off the proceedings. Saints began the brightest and took the lead on ten minutes following a penalty, and after fullback Ian Hardman had been held on his back as he drove for the line. From the next play the ball stand off Scott Moore put out a long pass to Viane who looked to be wrapped up by the Panthers. But he managed to offload to Hardman who drove the line to score and give his side a 4-0 lead.
Blackpool hit back three minutes later to level the game up when centre Glen Godbee made a break down the wing and as he passed inside Viane tried to block his pass. But the ball went to ground and was picked up by winger Eric Andrews who plunged over in the corner. Both sides were playing well but the Saints just had the edged and Hardman scored his second try on 25 minutes when he took a subtle pass from Moore timing his angle run to perfection, and scoring to the left of the posts. Loose forward Carl Forber converted as he did two minutes later when following a penalty Moore made a burst downfield to score under the posts on the first tackle to make it 16-4. On 31 minutes a superb inside pass by Moore to Hardman saw the fullback racing for the line but instead of going to the corner he came inside and scrambling Blackpool defence was the order of the day.
Moore had run things for Saints in the first half and his opposite number Martin Gambles and centre Liam Bretherton made some great runs for the Panthers. Evergreen prop Steve Molloy displayed some of the touches that made him a Great Britain player with his foraging drives to the line.
The second half saw the introduction of former Saint Liam McGovern and working in tandem with Gambles they began to work the magic for Blackpool. On 51 minutes following a spell of Panthers pressure McGovern put a grubber kick in and second row forward Gary Hill plunged on the ball to score. Five minutes later they bombed another try when Bretherton came inside with a two-man overlap after delightful work by Gamble and McGovern. But 59 minutes later the pair worked an opening for Molloy who burst down the middle of the field and as he drew the last line of defence he passed inside to the supporting Gambles to go under the sticks. Brethertons goal left them two points behind at 16-14.
On there next set of six Gambles was a metre short as the Saints defence held on. In attack the visitors were rarely seen as an attacking force and the Panthers were in command. With ten minutes remaining Blackpool thought they had taken the lead for the first time when Gambles and McGovern combined to pass out to Bretherton who passed outside to Godbee but Moore's cover tackle put him into touch.
Saints counter attacked on 74 minutes with there only attack of the half and magnificent cover defence stopped Hardman again as he collected a kick by Forber on the last tackle, to stop him scoring his hat trick. Then in the final minute the half back combination of Gamble and McGovern attacked the Saints line the ball spun onto Bretherton and Godbee who found substitute Jake Johnstone who went for the corner. The route was blocked and he passed inside to Godbee who went through the smallest of gaps to score through a tiring St Helens defence. Johnstone converted for a four point lead and as the hooter went the crowd went into raptures after this famous win.
The message is loud and clear Blackpool are back.