by Nathan Lawrenson
St Helens executed an immaculate performance over Challenge Cup holders Warrington, to seal a 28-6 win and guarantee themselves a bye in the next play-off round.
Warrington scored first, but lost their lead for good, after the Saints scored two tries in the final few minutes of the first-half.
Saints then went on to stamp their authority on the joint title favourites in a five try thumping, thanks to a dominant, James Roby performance.
The visitors were without Michael Shenton who sustained a thumb injury in last Friday’s win at Wigan. However Mike Rush was able to recall Sia Soliola who was back from injury, but left Ade Gardener on the side-line.
Meanwhile, Warrington were with a fresh squad after boss, Tony Smith elected to rest five key figures during last week’ win at Widnes. Stefan Ratchford was also cleared fit after recovering from a knee injury, but loose forward Ben Harrison missed out through a similar injury.
A Josh Perry error on the first set gave the Wolves an excellent opportunity to attack, and if it wasn’t for Paul Wood spilling the ball after Joel Monaghan patted back a Lee Briers kick, they would have then opened the scoring.
An arm-wrestle ensured with neither side able to breach their opponent’s brick wall. defence until Brett Hodgson crossed the line in the 23rd minute.
The 34 year old veteran received the ball ten metres from Saints’ line before showing a dummy to deceive the defence and cross the line unopposed. Hodgson then took to the tee to convert his own efforts and make the score 6-0.
But Warrington could not afford to switch off because just ten minutes later, their lead was quashed by sub, Sia Soliola who powered through Brett Hodgson and Richie Myler to score. Tommy Makinson levelled the scores with a successful touchline conversion.
Just minutes after the visitors drew level, the latter pair combined to give Saints a 12-6 lead. Soliola picked up a Warrington error to break the line, before releasing the ball with a spectacular offload to Makinson who went on to score and then convert.
The Saints were looking to take an increased lead into the break, and almost did so when they were awarded a penalty on the hooter after Sia Soliola was obstructed challenging for the ball. Tommy Makinson missed the kick at goal and the ball was ran dead by Lee Briers who seemed in a hurry to end the half.
St Helens started the second stanza with the intensity the ended the first and after seven minutes, had extended their lead thanks to Tommy Makinson’s second. Makinson narrowly missed the resulting conversion which would have made it a three score game.
Warrington should have put themselves back in the match after Saints’ indiscipline gifted them with another six tackles, but on the third, the ball was passed straight past Chris Riley, into the unwelcoming stand.
The Wolves were then left to rue their mistake after Dream Team hooker, James Roby broke the line with a weaving run from dummy-half before planting the ball down under the sticks. Makinson made use of the easy conversion to give his side a comfortable 22-6 lead.
Seconds later, Francis Meli touched down to end the game, but Phil Bentham unable to come to Warrington’s rescue by ruling out the try for the clear forward pass in the build-up. Makinson kicked another goal making it a near impossible ask for a Warrington comeback.
These sides could well meet again in the play-offs should Warrington win their elimination tie next week.
Warrington: Hodgson, Riley, Ratchford, Atkins, J Monaghan, Briers, Myler, Morley, Higham, Hill, Waterhouse, Grix, McCarthy.
Replacements: M Monaghan, Carvell, Wood, Cooper.
St Helens: Wellens, Makinson, Wheeler, Jones, Meli, Hohaia, Lomax, Perry, Roby, Laffranchi, Puletua, Flanagan, Wilkin.
Replacements: Soliola, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Clough, Dixon.
T: Makinson 2, Soliola, Roby, Meli
G: Makinson 4
Referee: Ben Thaler
Video-Referee: Richard Silverwood
Man of the Match: James Roby (St Helens)