Four tries from veteran fullback, Paul Wellens, powered Saints to victory over the Salford City Reds as the Merseyside outfit kept up the pressure on league-leaders, Wigan Warriors. It was the perfect antidote to World Cup blues … and not a vuvuzela to be heard.
Wellens was impressive throughout and benefited from another masterful display by stand-off half, Leon Pryce, who is finding international class form at the moment.
Together the pair ensured Saints exacted some measure of revenge for the spanking Salford inflicted on them with a 42-34 victory at the Willows on May 15th. The win builds on the momentum accrued from their victory over Wigan at the DW Stadium last Sunday and sets them up nicely for next weekend’s showdown with their Grand Final nemesis, Leeds Rhinos.
But the Salford City Reds played their part in a hugely entertaining game, refusing to give in to the end and playing some attractive football.
“Tonight we saw a very good St Helens side, their big game players stood-up and they capitalised on their opportunities,”
admitted Salford City Reds coach, Shaun McRae.
“They took advantage of our errors and maybe in the end that was the difference. But we wouldn’t go away, when we got the ball we were able to score, but we just couldn’t get it of them.
“So although we’re disappointed with the result, we can take a lot of positives from tonight”.
The home side got off to a great start when Keiron Cunningham’s pass opened the door wide-open for James Roby in the opening minutes of this game. But the loose-forward just lacked the pace and confidence to beat Karl Fitzpatrick after a 40 metre break.
Yet, despite wasting another half chance moments later, the Saints were soon ahead. Leon Pryce again taking on the Salford line, as he had to such effect against Wigan in his last outing, with Flannery’s final pass allowing Ade Gardner to cross at the left corner.
Salford quickly replied, taking the lead on their first real possession of the game. Phillip Leuluai looked to have been wrapped-up by Paul Wellens and Tony Puletua as he took a crash ball between the posts, but somehow he slipped the ball out and Ryan Boyle picked-up to score by the right upright. Daniel Holdsworth converted with ease.
Adam Sidlow came off the bench and was on the shoulder of Holdsworth to take the offload and score with his first touch of the game to make it 10-6. Holdsworth pushed an easy conversion attempt wide right.
That missed two-point looked like it might prove vital, but it played little part in the demolition that followed. James Graham’s appearance from the bench roused the crowd and signalled a burst of 24-points in just nine minutes for the Saints.
Buoyed by the return of Graham Saints hit the front with two quick fire scores. First Puletua wriggling from a tackle to squirm over between the posts. Then Scott Moore breaking tackles and linking with Wellens to send the fullback over between the posts, with Lomax tagging on both conversions for a 16-10 lead.
The home side then put real daylight between them and the visitors with another brace.
First the impressive Pryce continued to torment Salford. This time his outrageous dummy – as the Saints whipped the ball right to left along the line – ripped open the Reds defence allowing the stand-off to stroll over by the left upright.
And barely had the applause died down on that score than Pryce was striding again through the Salford line. This time racing clear from hisi own 20 before sending the supporting Wellens over for his second try. Lomax converted both scores to give the Saints a 28-10 lead.
Salford clawed their way back into the contest, nicking a try in the final minute of the half when Smith slipped a tackle on the Saints 20 and despite being tackled short, found Sidlow on his shoulder to give the substitute his second try.
This after Jodie Broughton had denied Gidley at the right corner, after Pryce, Wellens and Lomax had combined to create the chance.
Holdsworth’s conversion sent his team in at the break trailing the Saints by 28-16.
The second half opened wtih Saints withstanding early Salford pressure. But the home side extended their lead when Flannery crashed over at left centre. Lomax converted.
That score was quickly cancelled out though when Mark Henry squirmed in at the left corner, with Holdsworth converting from wide out.
But a sweet move from a scrum inside the Salford 20 and wide on the left, saw Pryce send Wellens in at right centre for his third try. Lomax tagged on two more for a 40-22 lead.
Ashley Gibson kept Salford in touch thought when he strolled through a gap on Saints left for an easy try. Holdsworth’s goal made it 40-28.
But that man Wellens was on hand to settle any nerves the fans might have had. Crossing for his fourth score with 9 minutes remaining. Matty Ashurst backed that up by crashing in at the right corner moments later with Lomax’s conversions putting Saints 52-28 ahead.
Late scores from Holdsworth, which he converted and Pryce completed the 17-try fest, with Lomax’s touchline conversion putting the exclamation point on it.
It was a performance that left coach, Mick Potter with mixed feelings.
“It was good to get the 58-points, but I’m less happy with the 34 (conceded),”
“We can do better than that. But I’m just glad to get the two-points and move on.
“Wellens and Pryce were again involved in everything tonight and Jonny (Lomax) also had an impressive game on his return. He’s a good player”.
Subs: Fozzard, Graham, Dixon, Ashurst
Gardner (7), Puletua (24), Pryce (31, 79), Wellens (26, 33, 57, 71), Flannery (47), Ashurst (74)
G: Lomax 9/10
G: Holdsworth 5/6