|17th Mar 2006|| Super League||HOME||12352||HT:12-16|
|Age in brackets is at time of match - Total average age for this team is 26 - ** non-playing sub|
MATCH REPORT : An immense individual effort from Keiron Cunningham was at the forefront of an outstanding Saints performance that saw the league leaders overwhelm a Bradford side that were unbeaten in their previous 18 matches.
Saints, however, also have a record to be proud of, having lost only one league match at Knowsley Road in eighteen months, ironically to Bradford, last September.
A defensive steel has been very much in evidence in 2006, and against the Super League Champions this was combined with moments of devastating potency in attack, which the Bulls’ own miserly defence could not repel.
Cunningham kept the Bulls on the back foot throughout, ably assisted by powerful performances from his forwards, in particular James Graham and Maurie Fa’asavalu.
This laid the platform for the backs who revelled in the space they were afforded, scoring six tries, with hooker Cunningham also crossing.
After spending the first fifteen minutes almost entirely on the defensive, with only a Ben Harris try in the deficit column, Saints were able to utilise their first spell of possession to put pressure on the Bradford defence.
The confidence gained from their solid defensive opening flowed into their attacking moves, and it was a fluid six-man move that resulted in Francis Meli touching down in the corner.
They shrugged off the loss of Paul Wellens with a fractured cheekbone on twenty-five minutes, switching Leon Pryce to full-back and introducing Jon Wilkin at stand-off, without missing a beat in their attacking play.
Fa’asavalu’s charge downfield resulted in Long scampering through a gaping hole in the Bradford line for Saints’ second, before Pryce claimed his first try since scoring for Bradford in the 2005 Grand Final when he crossed from dummy-half.
Bradford were rocked, and were contributing to their own difficulties with errors and indiscipline that saw Saints justifiably 9-2 ahead in the penalty count.
However the Bulls, having just lost Iestyn Harris through injury, were handed a lifeline on thirty-five minutes when Jason Hooper was sin-binned for a late challenge on Paul Deacon. Within moments the Bulls had reduced the deficit to just four points, as Shotayne Hape’s angled run found a way through, with Deacon converting.
That was to be as close as Bradford got to the home side. After the half-time break, and still a man down, Gardner scored Saints’ fourth try after Long’s kick took a fortuitous ricochet off Karl Pryce.
This impudence knocked Bradford, and it was only a howler from Long – who lost control of the ball as he attempted a showboat finish to a lovely break from Pryce – that prevented Saints from extending their lead further.
He redeemed himself minutes later with a fantastic 40-20 that led to Cunningham bulldozing over from eight metres to give Saints a formidable 28-12 lead as the game entered the final quarter.
Any lingering hopes amongst the travelling fans were extinguished when Meli outpaced Vainikolo to the line after supporting Jon Wilkin’s break from deep, before Gardner added the gloss with his sixth try in as many games.
Hape crossed for his second try of the evening on the final hooter, but it was a mere consolation, as Saints maintained their winning start to Super League XI ahead of next week’s tricky visit to Hull’s KC Stadium.
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