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Saints review of the season: Saints bounce back into contention
11:20am Saturday 6th October 2012 in Latest News
AFTER the swift and sudden departure of coaches Royce Simmons and Kiron Purtill, the solution was to bring in caretaker boss Mike Rush, who took charge with former skipper Keiron Cunningham as his assistant.
Remarkably it worked wonders from the off and they ripped the champions Leeds apart with a great brand of football.
Leeds turned up sporting a team of red heads for Comic Relief, but Saints were the ones laughing after this one.
The forwards actually played like a cohesive pack for the first time in a long while, hitting the ball up aggressively, supporting well and always looking for opportunities to offload.
The tackling was excellent in all departments – and Mark Flanagan’s right shoulder in particular left his impression on a few Rhinos midriffs.
Gone was the conservative brand of rugby that had made Saints look so pedestrian and predictable in the previous weeks.
There were changes that more or less stuck for the rest of the year, with Francis Meli returning to the flanks, Lance Hohaia displacing Lee Gaskell in the halves and Jamie Foster cast adrift to the under 20s before finishing the season at Hull.
Saints ran riot, rattling in 46 points, with Lomax, Gardner and Wheeler helping themselves to two tries each.
The following week they bounced into the Halliwell Jones and turned over the Wolves with inspired skipper Paul Wellens grabbing a brace of tries in the emphatic 28-16 win.
Alas, someone was there to prick Saints’ inflated bubble and Wellens was banned for the Good Friday game despite a letter of support from Lee Briers, who he was adjudged to have placed in a dangerous position with a harmless tackle. Anthony Laffranchi, too, copped a ban to rule him out of the Easter programme.
Saints went into the first Good Friday at Langtree Park on the back foot after losing their appeal on Wellens. They were also a little too timid and an abrasive Wigan unit led by Gareth Hock was allowed to knock Saints off their game.
It was a bad defeat – not helped by Jonny Lomax’s early loss with a compound finger fracture. Hock bossed the show and then put his name forward as public enemy number one by tossing the ball into the Saints end after the closing try.
Easter Monday’s fixture at Castleford brought a win at some considerable cost with Tony Puletua dislocating his shoulder.
A pair of wins over Widnes, league and cup highlighted by a hat-trick from new boy Adam Swift, a 76-0 safe passage past Oldham and victory over Wakefield helped Saints build a bit of confidence for the Challenge Cup draw against Wigan.
The drama started before a ball had been kicked, with the Warriors DW landlords initially stating that the game could not be played 24 hours before a Latics Premiership game.
When that was resolved it turned out that a wedding had been booked meaning Saints supporters had to be displaced from the usual spec behind the goal.
That probably had no effect on the match, but once again Wigan triumphed after Saints butchered opportunity after opportunity early in the game.
The added no further score to Paul Wellens’ opening try and suffered a cup exit before the semi-final stage for the first time since 2000.
The season meandered a little through June, with a creditable draw at Hull built on an unbelievable tackling stint kicking off the month. There were easy wins over Bradford and Salford and then they were given an almighty scare by Hull KR who mounted a comeback of Catalan proportions after Saints had built up a big lead.
However, more drama followed the following week at the Stobart Stadium I-pitch where Widnes looked on course for their first win over Saints since 1994 when they led 23-18.
With the clock reading 1.57 to go Saints got the ball back from the kick off . They patiently worked the ball right and then left before eventually creating an opening for the prolific teenage centre Josh Jones to power his way through.
With the home crowd hollering, stand-in kicker Lee Gaskell stepped up to arrow it between the uprights to clinch the victory with no time left for the restart.
A sense of real belief started to pump through the club when they went to Catalan and pulled off a magnificent 20-15 despite the loss of Tony Puletua, who was sent off for a shoulder charge tackle.
A comfortable win over the free-falling Huddersfield Giants consolidated Saints’ climb up to third.
Any hopes of securing second spot came a cropper with the 22-12 defeat by eventual league table runners up Warrington.
The energy spent in that game bit them the following week when Saints were pipped by a last-gasp Paul Sykes drop goal at Wakefield.