St Helens 32 Catalan Dragons 34

THE match statistics speak for themselves and they don’t make good reading for St Helens and their army of fans.

In their first four Stobart Super League fixtures this season, Saints have conceded an unacceptable 104 points, an average of 26 per game.

Worse still, the 34 surrendered in a nerve-shredding clash against the Dragons was the highest on home soil since April 24, 2009, when Bradford Bulls came to Knowsley Road and stormed to a 34-30 victory.

And the last time they scored 32 points or more and still lost at home was the 38-34 setback against Wigan Warriors on June 6, 2003.

But at the same time, such damning facts should not be allowed to entirely overshadow what was a classic drama-filled Friday night encounter in which the French side snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

It brought memories flooding back to the never-to-be-forgotten night at Knowsley Road in September, 2000, when Saints went the full length of the field on the last play of their Super League qualifying play-off tie against Bradford Bulls to clinch a spectacular 16-11 victory.

Dubbed The Wide to West Try, in which skipper Chris Joynt put the finishing touches to a slick Dwayne West offload, it is recognised as the greatest and most breath-taking try in Super League history.

Maybe not any more after the Dragons’ last-gasp victory at Langtree Park which, on this occasion, left shell-shocked and tearful Saints supporters looking on in sheer disbelief.

The final hooter had already sounded in the middle of the Dragons’ do-or-die bid to snatch at least a share of the spoils and following an amazing and frenetic passage of play, in which they kept the ball alive through a combination of good luck and off-the-cuff handling, Daryl Millard swerved past scrum-half Jonny Lomax to touch down in the left-hand corner.

Even then it took what seemed like an eternity for video referee Steve Ganson to make a decision – and who could blame him?

There were so many issues to sort but he eventually awarded the try to bring the scores level, leaving the ice-cool Scott Dureau to land a far from easy match-clinching touchline conversion to extend the Dragons’ 100 per cent record to three games.

It was also Saints’ first defeat of the campaign, leaving the players reflecting how on earth they had allowed a 20-8 interval lead to be torn from their grasp.

They had been in total command during the early exchanges when their tackling and general play was razor-sharp, forcing the French into conceding far too many penalties for their own good, and taking full advantage of the situation.

Winger Jamie Foster struck first after only three minutes, when he latched on to a Lee Gaskell’s grubber kick before twisting his way over.

Foster landed the goal but the Dragons responded positively and levelled the scores five minutes later – Remi Casty brushing aside a weak challenge from fellow prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to score and Dureau landing the first of his five goals.

Saints, however, continued to dominate and were rewarded with two further first half tries.

Hooker James Roby, Gaskell and Lomax combined to send prop Anthony Laffranchi darting through a gap and then another fine handling move ended with centre Gary Wheeler going over to the left of the posts.

Foster slotted over both goals to add to an earlier penalty success to give Saints a 20-6 advantage, but just before the half-time hooter sounded, the Dragons pegged back two points from a penalty of their own – and how crucial Dureau’s effort turned out to be in the final analysis.

There was, however, little to suggest any kind of comeback as the hosts extended their lead to 26-8 four minutes after the interval following a stunning move.

Lomax and full-back Paul Wellens made the initial break before bringing Michael Shenton into the move and even though there looked no easy route to the tryline, the centre produced an audacious one-handed pass which winger Tom Makinson picked up inches from the ground to slide over the whitewash.

Foster’s fifth successive goal emphasised Saints’ superiority at this stage but, in the space of eight minutes, a suddenly rejuvenated French side started to turned the game on its head with a three-try burst.

Winger Damien Blanch lit the touchpaper after 58 minute, roaring over in the right-hand corner from a Steve Menzies offload before Foster’s failure to deal with a towering Millard kick gift-wrapped a try for centre Vincent Duport.

Blanch then turned try provider as he switched the ball inside to leave Dureau an easy run to the line, reducing the deficit only four points.

Saints thought they had regained the initiative after 69 minutes when Wheeler intercepted a pass from the otherwise outstanding Dureau and raced 50 metres to score.

Foster’s goal increased the lead to 32-22 but within minutes the Dragons had clawed their way back into contention once more and, ironically, former Saints stand-off Leon Pryce was instrumental in setting up a try for Setaimata Sa which Dureau converted.

It set the stage for a grandstand finale and, as they say, the rest is history.

Saints: Wellens, Makinson, Shenton, Wheeler, Foster, Gaskell, Lomax, Laffranchi, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Wilkin, Puletua.

Subs: Hohaia, Flannery, Flanagan, Clough.

CatalanS Dragons: Greenshields, Blanch, Millard, Duport, Bosc, Pryce, Dureau, Casty, Henderson, Paea, Sa, Menzies, Baitieri.

Subs: Ferriol, Mounis, Raguin, Fakir.

Referee: James Child.

Attendance: 13,108.

NOT an easy decision to make after such a topsy-turvy Saints’ performance but on the strength of his two tries and his general play my vote goes to centre Gary Wheeler, left. Wheeler missed a fair chunk of last season due to injury but is now beginning to show the kind of form he displayed when he first made the first team squad.