ST HELENS completed an incredible and well-deserved fightback to become world champions at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton, in the World Club Challenge match against the Brisbane Broncos.
Saints have lost their last two games, surprisingly against Harlequins at Knowsley Road and Wakefield at Belle Vue. Coach Daniel Anderson was looking for a marked improvement, and the return of Paul Sculthorpe ignited that.
Saints started off slowly. Brisbane naming a strong squad, set the tone for the game, and indeed the season so far for Saints, by taking an early lead. Moments before Scrum half Sean Long made a fantastic try saving tackle from Brent Tate after the Brisbane player ran the length of the field.
Two minutes later however, and Ade Gardner, who was the hero for Saints in the end, became villian temporarily. Darren Lockyer's hanging kick was knocked back by Gardner straight into the arms of Corey Parker, who dived over the whitewash. Parker kicked the conversion, to give the Broncos a 6-0 lead.
St Helens were largely disappointing. Their kicking was waywards, however, plaudits having to go to full back Karmichael Hunt, who swallowed the majority, if not all of the first half kicks. Saints also were disappointing in the attacking front. This, plus the failure to grasp the concept of not conceding mistakes, led to an uneventful, and disappointing match. Matt Gidley conceeded an unnecessary penalty after 11 minutes led to Parker adding a further two points to give the Broncos an 8-0 advantage.
That was soon to change however, with Sculthorpe's appearance on 21 minutes, tempering a resilient Saints fightback. Saints forced errors, and finally put some pressure on the Broncos, albeit to no avail.
Saints did gain a large confidence boost however, just before half time. Their resilience paid off finally, albeit luckily. St Helens managed to gain a penalty, much to the crowds delight [and sarcasm], and Sean Long's long kick, nearly landed in field, however Justin Hodges' leap adjudged him to have his foot out of play.
From the resulting six, the confidence arose, along with the crowds determination, and the ball was played across to the eager Ade Gardner, who sidestepped Darius Boyd, to get Saints finally on the scoresheet. Sculthorpe added the extras, with a superb taken kick, right on the hooter to make it 8-6 to Brisbane Broncos.
In an enthralling second half, it was Brisbane who again came out fighting. The impressive Karmichael Hunt tore St Helens apart, and it was his strong running that set-up the first try of the second half. Hunt, made a fantastic sprint laying off the ball to Darren Lockyer who placed a superb kick across field, to Darius Boyd who went over the whitewash gratefully. Parker failed to add the extras.
The pivotal moment was soon to come. It was ironic too that it was to be, Captain Paul Sculthorpe on his return from injury, who set the Saints revival in motion. On 56 minutes, Saints got a sniff of a try and Keiron Cunningham, playing with an injury, came onto play the shortball to Sculthorpe who went over the line. Sculthorpe added the extras, to make it all square.
An high shot on Justin Hodges, put a spanner in the works temporarily, with Parker adding a further two points from 40 yards out. With just ten minutes remaining however, Ade Gardner went over for the winning, and invaluable try that Coach Daniel Anderson had been searching for to help resurrect, this confidence-diminished St Helens outfit. Sean Long savoured the moment, with a fantastic spiralling high ball, which Gardner collected as he rose above the Brisbane defence, to send the 20,000 strong crowd wild. Sculthorpe added to give Saints a 4 points lead.
Brisbane poured forward with Petero Civoniceva driving powerfully in particular, however it was to no avail, and with just a minute to go Saints hooker Keiron Cunningham celebrated a fine victory reminiscent of that of 2001, where Saints again came from behind from an 18 points to 4 defecit, to win 20 points to 18.
Daniel Anderson, will be looking for the victory to resurrect a disappointing and critical start to the season.
St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Gidley, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Fozzard, Roby, Cayless, Gilmour, Bennett, Wilkin.
Replacements: Sculthorpe, Graham, Hargreaves, Cunningham.
Brisbane: Hunt, Boyd, Tate, Hodges, Michaels, Lockyer, Perry, Carlaw, Berrigan, Civoniceva, Parker, Thorn, Carroll.
Replacements: Thaiday, Eastwood, Hannant, Emmett.