Sheffield show steel but it’s still a cup romp

Little gem ... Kyle Eastmond celebrates scoring against Sheffield Eagles
Little gem ... Kyle Eastmond celebrates scoring against Sheffield Eagles
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HAD this been a boxing match, it would have been stopped long before the end by the towel being tossed into the ring.

Three Saints’ tries in the opening 16 minutes guaranteed the 12-times winners of the Challenge Cup competition a place in the fifth round – and a home tie against a second Co-operative Championship outfit, Featherstone Rovers, later this month.

Once more, the result emphasised the alarming gap which still exists between Super League and the rest in terms of size, power, skill and fitness.

But it shouldn’t detract from Sheffield’s steely performance, in which they showed a great deal of courage and commitment with a late three-try burst to give the final scoreline a little more respectability.

Having said that, the Tykes mini fightback was due mainly to Saints’ complacency, and their minds straying to this coming weekend’s top-of-the-table league clash against Huddersfield Giants at the Galpharm Stadium.

It didn’t, however, prevent them from picking up yet more injuries – Kyle Eastmond (groin), Andrew Dixon (hip) and Nathan Ashe (knee) all adding to coach Royce Simmons’ never-ending tale of woe, and leaving his squad down to the bare bones.

Saints, who went into the Saturday’s clash without eight first-team regulars, made light work of their off-field problems. Within two min-utes, they had posted the first of their nine-try broadside.

Not surprisingly, top try scorer Jamie Foster was Johnny-on-the-spot, collecting a pass from Francis Meli, and adding the goal for good measure.

Winger Foster was bang on target with his second kick 11 minutes later after Sia Soliola had stretched his way over the whitewash from an Eastmond pass.

Saints extended their lead to 18 points five minutes later when James Roby and Jon Wilkin combining to send Meli over, even though much to the amusement of the crowd, the New Zealand centre flattened referee Ben Thaler on his way to the try-line.

Foster maintained his 100% conversion rate.

Despite having their wings clipped a third time, the Eagles hit back in the 29th minute following a scintillating break by outstanding full-back Quentin Laulu-Togage, which eventually paved the way for Alex Szostak to snap up a loose ball and score.

Simon Brown added the goal, but it only took Saints a further four minutes to regain total control, Michael Shenton wriggling his way over down the right to complete the first-half scoring.

Like the opening 40 minutes, it only took the hosts two minutes to add to their points tally when Wilkin fastened on to Eastmond’s astute offload before delivering a made-to-measure grubber kick into the path of in-form centre Meli, who touched down unchallenged.

Wilkin then turned try scorer seven minutes later, intercepting Mitchell Stringer’s short pass close to the Sheffield line and strolling in.

Then Foster notched his 12th try of the campaign and added his third goal of the second half.

At this stage, Eagles were looking down the barrel of at least a 60 or 70 point massacre but to their eternal credit didn’t wave the white flag of surrender – Szostak claiming his second try after 54 minutes.

Even when Saints struck again four minutes later through Eastmond – his first try since serving an internal club suspension – and Foster slotted over his seventh goal, the resilient Eagles refused to buckle.

And a stunning late hat-trick by Lalul-Tagage – plus a further two Brown goals – gave their small pocket of fans something to cherish from their joust with the Super League giant.

However, it was still inevitable that Saints would had the last word, with Chris Flannery crossing and Foster goaling on the hooter.