FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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St Helens confirmed their return to form with a brilliant 35-0 win over Bradford Bulls at Odsal on Friday night. The reigning champions were back to their very best, and handled the torrential conditions much better than their hosts, who suffered a third successive home defeat for the first time in six years.
Saints were clinical in attack, making Bradford pay for a string of errors, while their defence was dominant and powerful.
Bradford got on top in the opening stages, with Joe Vagana producing a shuddering hit on Keith Mason, but a 40-20 from Sean Long on 11 minutes gave the visitors the field position to open the scoring.
They took full advantage, with Mick Higham surging between Danny Gartner and Mike Forshaw to dive over.
Higham, the England A hooker who has been switched to half back in the past fortnight, then added his, and Saints' second score three minutes later.
He charged down Paul Deacon's kick, and collected the loose ball to race 75 yards to the line, with a second Long conversion giving them a 12-0 lead.
The Bulls had a lucky escape before the quarter mark, when Darren Smith's score was ruled out, with Keiron Cunningham adjudged offside from Paul Sculthorpe's kick, which was charged down before the hooker collected and raced upfield.
Paul Wellens stopped Mike Forshaw just short as the Bulls looked to get back into the game, while Lee Gilmour's kick-chase saw him trap the Saints full back in-goal.
But the reigning champions weathered the storm, and took advantage of Lesley Vainikolo's spill for Darren Albert to score in the 33rd minute.
Long added the goal, but missed with a long-range penalty attempt, and a spill from Leon Pryce on his own line put the Bulls in further trouble before the break.
Albert collected and, although he was tackled short, Chris Joynt celebrated his return to the side by burrowing in to create a 22-0 interval lead.
And things got even worse for Bradford with 95 seconds of the restart, with Robbie Paul knocking on a Pauk Sculthorpe kick and the Saints star then forcing his way to the line, Long adding another goal.
Stuart Fielden made a somewhat surprise return from three months out with a knee injury, and a knock on in the 48th minute blotted his copybook in an otherwise commendable 71 minute stint.
Saints once again punished a Bulls error, with Long skirting across the line before his pass over the head of Tevita Vaikona sent Jason Hooper in at the corner, the conversion creating a remarkable 34-0 cushion.
Bradford's night got even worse in the 54th minute, when Paul was led off with what is believed to be a double fracture of his arm after being tackled in-goal by Sculthorpe.
A superb tackle from Wellens halted a rampaging Vainikolo in the 63rd minute, and the Bulls winger was denied by the video referee seconds later when he was adjudged to have lost the ball when attempting to touch down under the posts.
Higham also had a try chalked off at the other end, when Pryce and Vainikolo both went for a bomb only to collide and fumble the ball and the Saints player, looking for his hat-trick, knocked on at the corner after collecting.
Jamie Peacock, arguably Bradford's best player, was halted by Sculthorpe after breaking through, epitomising their fine display, and Long's last-second drop goal ensured that Saints march back over the Pennines with two thoroughly deserved points.
"I was just glad we won," said Saints coach Ian Millward. "We have been working hard for a long time and everyone has been solid.
"It helps your confidence and reinforces some of the good things you do in training in a game.
"There's a lot of rugby to go yet and we've just got to try and work our way up the ladder and see where we end up."
Bulls coach Brian Noble said: "It is disappointing but we will learn from this and come back stronger.
"We didn't get much luck in the first half. We had defended well but paid the price for errors in the back field, and there was a lot of effort in the second half.
Warriors 24 Tigers 10 Wigan's glorious form continued at sodden JJB Stadium where six goal Andy Farrell & his Warriors kept their nerve to overcome a battling Castleford Tigers outfit.
After the Castleford bus was late delaying the kick-off Wigan took first blood with two farrell penalties opening a four point lead.
Castleford skipper Danny Orr replied, converting his own try to take the lead 6-4 on the 17th minute.
A quickfire response ensued as youngster Martin Aspinwall crossed on 21 minutes but Farrell couldn't convert.
This proved crucial as former Cronulla centre Paul Mellor scored his first ever try for Castleford to see the Tigers ahead 8-10 at the break.
Farrell's radar boot clawed Wigan back into the lead with two penalties to give Raper's men the lead at 10-8.
A titanic struggle followed and David Hodgson broke the deadlock on 66 minutes to give Wigan the lead they never reliquished.
Despite the Tigers, valiant attempts Paul Johnson sealed the win late on with a try in the 76th minute, with his skipper adding the extras.