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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 February 2007, 11:18 GMT
Scully's return
By Elizabeth Hudson
BBC Sport in Bolton

Paul Sculthorpe
Sculthorpe inspired St Helens to a second World Club Challenge win
St Helens' Paul Sculthorpe entered the media scrum in the bowels of Bolton's Reebok Stadium looking like a man who had completed a good day's work.

Dressed in a Saints sweatshirt, splattered with mud and wearing an ice pack on his right knee, he wore a satisfied smile - and who could blame him?

Six months after a knee reconstruction operation, which could have signalled the end of his playing career, the Great Britain captain played a starring role in his side's 18-14 win over the Brisbane Broncos.

It was a remarkable achievement by the 29-year-old, who, at the start of the week, did not appear to be in contention for a return to action for a couple of weeks.

But Saints coach Daniel Anderson, already under some pressure after two Super League defeats in a row, had a plan in mind which worked to perfection on a wet night in Bolton.

Sculthorpe worked through a series of physical tests over the course of the week to prepare him for the game and on Friday morning he was finally told that he had made it.

He was joined on the bench by hooker Keiron Cunningham, who had recovered from a hip injury that threatened to keep him out of the game.

Their inclusions on the team sheet were the main talking point before the game but the coach's decision proved to be a masterstroke.

"We kept on putting doors in front of Scully all week and he kept knocking them down," admitted Anderson after the game.

"It was a gamble to play both him and Cunningham but they are both vastly experienced players with well over 250 games under their belts each and I was confident."

Sculthorpe, twice named Man of Steel in 2001 and 2002, might not have started the game and been slightly less than match-fit after his lay-off but without him, Saints could have struggled.

606 DEBATE: Give your reaction to Sculthorpe's return

His arrival after 20 minutes of the game, and with Saints already 6-0 down from Corey Parker's try and conversion, seemed to lift both his team-mates and the Saints supporters in the 23,000-strong crowd.

It led to Saints best passage of play in the first half as Sculthorpe used all of his experience and guile to perfection and his team-mates followed his lead.

He converted Ade Gardner's try just before half-time which ensured Saints trailed by only two points by the break.

Then, when Saints fell further behind early in the second half after a controversial Darius Boyd try, he was given a delightful pass by Cunningham which saw him mark his return with a try, which he also converted.

In the final 10 minutes he also converted Gardner's second try as Saints battled to their second World Club Challenge title after the 2001 victory over the Broncos at the same venue.

What I have achieved here has really sunk in yet but the main thing is that it is great for me to be back playing

Paul Sculthorpe

Sean Long may have lifted the trophy as captain but Sculthorpe's efforts saw him unanimously voted Man of the Match by the media

"It didn't take much of an effort to get up for a game like that," he told BBC Sport afterwards.

"It was a strange situation for me because I think it was the first or second time I have come into the game off the substitutes bench in about 12 years.

"I was a bit apprehensive coming into the game and being back playing but I felt good in the warm-up and I just built on that, although I got on a bit earlier than was planned.

"I don't think what I have achieved here has really sunk in yet but the main thing is that it is great for me to be back playing with the boys again.

"I have to thank them and the rest of the club and the fans for all their support over the last six months when I've been out."

And like many supporters, who were delighted to Sculthorpe back to his brilliant best, his team-mates were in awe of his achievements.

"I've never seen a player come back from a knee injury the way he has," admitted Keiron Cunningham.

"Before the game he was nervous but he was awesome and never put a foot wrong all game - but if anyone could do that, Scully could."

SEE ALSO
St Helens 18-14 Brisbane Broncos
23 Feb 07 |  Rugby League
World Club Challenge photos
24 Feb 07 |  Rugby League
Sculthorpe gives burnout warning
20 Jan 07 |  International
Saints will not rush Sculthorpe
19 Jan 07 |  St Helens
Bitter-sweet victory for Sculthorpe
17 Oct 06 |  St Helens
Sculthorpe faces six months out
28 Sep 06 |  International


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