St Helens took the minor premiers crown with their win, and a Warrington Wolves loss, last weekend. The outcome of the game was therefore much more important for the Wire who were looking to cement their second place, while Saints were playing for pride.
The two sides met as recently as round twenty, when Saints were 21-10 winners at the Halliwell-Jones, despite trailing by 4-0 at the interval and not scoring their first point until the hour mark. Saints were looking for a hat-trick of 2019 wins against their near neighbours after also picking up a 38-12 win in round 10, in tonight's Challenge Cup dress rehearsal.
After the ‘battle of Stade Gilbert Brutus’ last weekend the home side made eight changes including the addition of a number of youngsters. Saints made just a couple of changes to their starting line-up with Jonny Lomax and Matty Costello into the side.
It took just over two minutes for the Wolves to open the scoring as Jake Mamo took a delightful floated pass from Stefan Ratchford to go in at the corner on the overlap. Ratchford was close with his attempted conversion but it brushed the outside of the far upright.
Saints were back on level pegging after ten minutes when a barstorming run from Luke Thompson laid the base for a Kevin Naiqama try when he took a Jack Wellsby pass. Danny Richardson added the conversion to put Saints two points ahead.
A fast and expansive passing move from right to left allowed Ratchford to find Josh Thewlis to score, on the overlap, on twenty four minutes. Ratchford was again unable to add the extra two, but the lead had changed hands again.
The lead lasted just three minutes before Jonny Lomax spoiled the party as he charged through the Wolves defensive line, and a couple of weak attempted tackles, to ground the ball. Richardson was again accurate with the boot for a 12-8 lead to the visitors.
Saints were penalised for being offside on their own line with a few seconds left on the clock and Ratchford kicked the goal on the hooter to narrow the half time gap to two points.
A great run by Kyle Amor, with the second half just four minutes old, allowed him to find Joseph Paulo in support to go over next to the sticks. Richardson kicked his third goal of the night for 18-10.
A fifty-fifth minute, twenty metre, Ratchford penalty reduced the arrears to one converted try.
Matty Costello finally broke the Wolves resolve when he muscled his way to the line past two tacklers on sixty-two after a high tackle by Chris Hill had gifted possession and position. Richardson added the conversion for a 24-12 lead.
Tommy Makinson scored Saints fifth try of the night diving over in the corner to score a fingertip try after taking a Welsby pass with just enough space to go over. Richardson added his fifth goal from the touchline for a 30-12 lead.
This was a good and competitive game, give the host of changes made by the Wolves. The best side on the night undoubtedly won but scoreline does the Wolves a bit of an injustice. Some tremendous Saints tries, and superb kicking from Richardson, emphasised just how good the league leaders are. Saints are now installed as massive favourites to lift the Challenge Cup, and the likelihood is that they will also meet again at some point in the play-off series.
Wolves: Ratchford (2G), Mamo (T), Burrell, Goodwin, Thewlis (T), Dean, Smith, Hill, Walker, Akauola, Currie, Livett, Westwood. Subs: Davis, Johnson, Tasi, Murdock-Masila.
Saints: Welsby, Grace, Costello (T), Naiqama (T), Makinson (T), Lomax (T), Richardson (4G), Lees, Smith, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Subs: Ashworth, Paulo (T), Amor, Bentley
Referee: Ben Thaler.