Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Sean Long became the second highest scorer in his club?s history as St Helens came from 20-8 down to maintain their unbeaten record under new coach Daniel Anderson with the aid of a hat-trick of tries from Willie Talau to draw 28-28 with London.
Saints looked likely to pull off one of their famous last-gasp victories when Kiwi international centre Talau touched two minutes from the end to level the scores but Long, who had an off day with the boot, missed with the final conversion of a tense match.
London Broncos thought they had claimed a second successive shock win at Knowsley Road when scrum-half Thomas Leuluai went over for his second try of the match on 53 minutes to put his side 24-14 in front.
But Saints twice drew level in a dramatic finish to secure a draw which puts them within a point of engage Super League leaders Leeds.
Long?s solo second-half try took his points tally to 2,005, edging him past Paul Loughlin?s total and putting him second in the all-time list only to Kel Coslett, but he was left to rue a poor day with his goalkicking.
Saints scored six tries to five but Long missed four of his six shots at goal and was outshone by his opposite number Leuluai, who was determined to impress his former New Zealand Test coach Anderson.
Anderson?s men made a dream start with Talau scoring the game?s first try after only two minutes, although there was a touch of good fortune about it, with second rower Lee Gilmour collecting a rebound from a Broncos defender.
It was 8-0 six minutes later when in-form centre Jamie Lyon demonstrated his strength to knock two defenders out of the way and give hooker Keiron Cunningham a clear run to the line. Long missed both conversion attempts but it seemed an irrelevance as Saints continued to dominate.
The Londoners threatened briefly when Leuluai, the man given his chance at club and country level by Anderson, jinked through a gap in the home defence but his pass was intercepted by Paul Sculthorpe.
It was a rare foray into home territory but Saints could not take advantage of a lion?s share of possession as Sculthorpe struggled to find his form and his side?s handling became sloppy.
The Broncos maintained their composure and, after a tremendous crunching tackle from London winger Jon Wells stopped Lyon in his tracks, they worked their way upfield and scored from their first meaningful attack on 24 minutes.
Wells outjumped full-back Paul Wellens to collect Leuluai?s high kick and force the ball down despite the best efforts of the Great Britain full-back. Sykes added the conversion and levelled the scores on 31 minutes with a penalty after Lyon had been pulled up for a high tackle.
Saints had barely recovered from the shock when the Broncos scored again to go in front. Wellens appeared to hesitate as went for Luke Dorn?s grubber kick and, as the ball came back off a post, Leuluai was on hand to claim the vital touch.
The half went from bad to worse for Saints when London struck a third time in stoppage time, winger Nick Bradley-Qalilawa grabbing his 12th try of the season after collecting another grubber kick from stand-off Dorn.
Sykes landed the touchline conversion to maintain his 100% record with the boot to give his side an unlikely 14-point lead at the break.
Uninspired and lethargic in the first half, St Helens were a transformed team at the start of the second half.
Sculthorpe, slow to make his mark on his return from a two-match injury absence, lunged for the line at the end of Saints? first attack and they maintained the pressure when Leuluai struggled to find space with his relieving kick.
The pressure paid off when Long ran onto Cunningham?s pass 40 metres out and went past full-back Zeb Luisi on an arcing run to score a try that earned him his 2,005th point for the club, edging him in front of Paul Loughlin.
Long also added the goal, his first success from three attempts, to cut the deficit to six points but London hit back on 53 minutes when Leuluai forced his way over from acting half-back to make it 24-14.
There was a new sense of urgency about Saints? play in the second half and, when Talau barged his way over for his second try on 58 minutes, the outcome was once more in the balance.
Saints looked to have secured at least a point when right winger Ian Hardman produced a miraculous pass out of the tackle for Lyon to touch down and Long levelled the scores.
But the Broncos responded immediately and second rower Rob Purdham took Dorn?s long pass to cross wide out for what looked to be the match-winning try but Talau had the last laugh.
St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Hardman, Hooper, Long, Fozzard, Cunningham, P. Anderson, Wilkin, Gilmour, Sculthorpe.
Replacements: Edmondson, Bennett, Roby, Fa?asavalu.
London: Lucky Luisi, Wells, Sykes, Smith, Bradley-Qalilawa, Dorn, Leuluai, Tookey, Highton, Lolohea, Purdham, Hopkins, Mbu.
Replacements: Williams, O?Halloran, Haumono, Trindall.
Referee: Karl Kirkpatrick (Warrington)
St Helens 28. Tries: Talau 3, Cunningham, Long, Lyon. Goals: Long 2.
London 28. Tries: Wells, Leuluai 2, Bradley-Qalilawa, Purdham. Goals: Sykes 4.
Thanks to: http://www.superleague.co.uk for another excellent article.