FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
19 hours ago - 3 Likes
Three tries in 13 unlucky minutes on either side of half-time put paid to the challenge of the team which has chased Saints the strongest all season. Just like Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup final, Hull played well enough for long enough to embarrass most teams. In the end, though, the suspicion that has been growing all season was confirmed; in 2006 Saints were simply in a class of their own.
With all but a handful of Old Trafford's 73,000-ticket capacity sold out in advance the Grand Final was already setting a new record. So, in their first appearance, were Hull as the longestpriced outsiders since the event was inaugurated. That was not out of disrespect to their achievements this season, but in deference to a St Helens side that finished eight points clear of them at the top of the table and looked the best equipped team in the competition all year.
Hull warmed up in tracksuit tops bearing the name and number of their former team-mate Steve Prescott, who is waging a battle against cancer. There was another layer of emotion on what already felt like a highly charged night for a club that has come so far in recent years.
A promising first Hull attack was spoiled by Shayne McMenemy's knock-on as both sides struggled to communicate in the deafening noise. Hull were the more relaxed and enterprising of the two and they came desperately close to taking the lead after seven minutes. Paul Cooke's long pass sent Gareth Raynor racing for the corner, only for the winger to be carried into touch by Paul Wellens and Jamie Lyon and have the try disallowed by the video referee.
Mistakes from Jon Wilkin and Francis Meli continued to give Hull opportunities to attack and Saints were hanging on in defence and hopelessly disjointed when got the ball. Typically, however, they scored with their first real assault, Sean Long finding room to measure a shrewd little kick to the corner and Meli winning the race to touch down. Lyon narrowly failed with the conversion attempt but, hugely against the run of play, Saints were ahead, giving them the confidence to keep the ball alive on the last tackle the next time they got into Hull territory.
Hull did not succumb, and soon they hit back. Cooke kicked high for the wing and neat handling by Motu Tony and McMenemy sent Sid Domic over. Cooke's touchline conversion came back off the post.
Lyon's break then produced a rare wasted pass to a vacant wing; his next foray gave Ade Gardner a real chance, foiled by Shaun Briscoe's immaculate tackle. It was a moment typical of a half that was short of points but full of incident and quality.
The complexion of the game changed a minute before half-time, however, when Leon Pryce took a pass from Long and found the sort of gap in the Hull defence that had not been there for the first 39 minutes. Once through, he was beyond recall and Lyon's successful kick gave Saints a flattering lead at the interval.
That gave Saints understandable confidence at the start of the second half. They soon got their reward, James Roby, one of their bright young emerging talents, retrieving a loose ball and getting it back to Jason Hooper, who slipped it short to Willie Talau. Finally, Saints seemed to be taking control.
A couple of minutes later that was beyond dispute, Long again kicking with pinpoint accuracy and Gardner outjumping Raynor to juggle and touch down. Just to rub it in, Lyon landed the goal from the widest of angles.
Hull roared back, and an exchange of passes between Richard Horne and Lee Radford could have produced a reply, but their attack petered out when Domic's pass went forward.
Saints were in clinical mood now as they took advantage of another turnover of possession, Keiron Cunningham taking a return pass smuggled out by Maurie Fa'asavalu to go over.
Brave Hull never stopped trying to play fluent rugby after that, but like the rest of Super League, they had been left in Saints' wake.
St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilkin, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Graham, Bennett, Fa'asavalu
Hull: Briscoe; Tony, Domic, Yeaman, Raynor; Cooke, R Horne; Dowes, Swain, Carvell, McMenemy, Radford, Washbrook. Substitutes used: Whiting, G. Horne, Wheeldon, King,
Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).
Dave Hadfield is a rugby league writer and the league correspondent for The Independent UK newspaper.