It took just ten minutes for Saints to show why they swept all before them last year, at The Stoop yesterday. The early minutes of the game saw both sides tentatively sounding each other out before a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions against Quins, most notably an imaginary ball strip at the play the ball, gave Saints an attacking platform the home side could ill afford and from which Leon Pryce weaved his way over for the opening try.
Saints skipper Paul Sculthorpe missed the first conversion attempt, but less than five minutes later he was adding a conversion to his own try to take the champions into a 0 – 10 lead. Quins posted their response, and only points of the game, twenty three minutes in when a break from Mark McLinden released Chris Melling to go in at the corner, with Rob Purdham adding the extra two points to make it 6 – 10.
With five minutes to go to the break Saints predictably stepped up the intensity with ex-Kangaroo centre Matt Gidley crossing for a try to make it 6 – 14. The Quins side did attempt to lift their game, but a rash decision to kick away possession on the first tackle in the final minute backfired when Saints halfbacks Sean Long and Pryce coolly linked up to put Kiwi winger Francis Meli away, with Sculthorpe’s goal sending his side into the break with an ominous 6 – 20 lead.
After the break Quins resolve appeared to falter with the side lacking organisation and direction, the Saints predictably took advantage running in five unanswered tries. At times the sheer quality of Saints attack bamboozled the disorganised Quins defence with smart lines of running and slick handling. Tries from youngster Steven Tyrer, veteran centre Willie Talau, a second for Gidley and two for Great Britain fullback Paul Wellens completed the Saints rout.
The Quins performance leaves many areas of concern going into this weekend’s Millenium Magic clash against Catalans Dragons, particularly the way in which the side lost is its way in the second half. Allegations of disquiet in the camp were not helped by rumours that stalwart centre Paul Sykes was dropped for the clash or the very public spat between workhorse back-row Lee Hopkins when he was briefly and unceremoniously substituted for disciplinary reasons (although it appeared Hopkins may have had some justification for feeling angry given that he appeared to be punished for the imaginary ball steal penalty).
Quins will desperately need to improve their performance for the Dragons, on this evidence they were desperately missing the Sykes and the injured Henry Paul, whilst concerns over the fitness of Daniel Heckenberg, David Mills and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook have seen young prop Luke Burgess brought in on loan from Leeds Rhinos as cover.
Harlequins RL: (6) 6
St Helens: (20) 44
Tries: Pryce, Sculthorpe, Gidley 2, Meli, Tyrer, Wellens 2, Talau
Goals: Sculthorpe 3, Wellens