The final game of round twelve of Super League was the Saturday lunchtime encounter between a down on their luck Champions St Helens and some might say, an over-performing Salford Red Devils as eighth welcomed sixth to the Totally Wicked Stadium in front of the Channel 4 cameras.
A win for the Saints would lift them above the Leeds Rhinos and into seventh, but a win for the visitors could lift them as high as second, should they record a cricket score against Paul Wellens´ unpredictable side.
St Helens had been installed as the bookies favourites for the win, despite them only winning once in their last four outings against a side who had been victorious in their last four. It was an intriguing prospect.
James Roby took the field for a Saints record breaking 532nd time as he looked to crown the achievement with a victory.
It took less than five minutes for the Red Devils to dampen the Roby party. A great break through the Saints line on half-way by King Vuniyayawa allowed him to make twenty metres before finding the supporting Brodie Croft who sprinted thirty metres to score under the sticks. Marc Sneyd added the extras, and the visitors had the dream start.
A flying finish from Tee Ritson on eleven, after a fast hands cross-field passing move from Saints, was ruled out by the video referee after the replays showed the ball was grounded on the line.
Saints were starting to boss the game without reward and after a snap break it was Salford who troubled the scorers next with their second of the afternoon. Croft, Kallum Watkins and Ryan Brierley all combined for the Red Devils full back to canter in, again under the sticks, giving Sneyd a simple conversion for a 12-0 lead.
A break by Roby was instrumental in Saints first try on thirty-two as he was hauled down just five metres short of the line. A fast play saw Jack Welsby pass to Sironen who drove to the line before offloading to the supporting James Bell to dive in. Tommy Makinson added the conversion for 6-12. After being second best for most of the half, Saints were back in the game but still trailing by six at the interval.
It took two minutes for Saints to score at the start of the second half, Sironen taking a Jonny Lomax pass to hit the Salford defenders at speed and stretch for the line to score. Makinson couldn´t add the extras and his side still trailed by two points.
A meltdown in the Red Devils defence gifted the lead to the home side. Dangerous passing inside their own ten metres culminated in an awful pass from Rhys Williams which Joe Burgess couldn´t take, Lomax picking up the loose ball and dotting it down from a couple of metres. Makinson was on target this time, Saints with a 16-12 lead. Ion the space of seven minutes the Red Devils had blown up.
On fifty minutes Saints went in again with a trademark Makinson try after Will Hopoate drew two defenders to create the space for his winger. Makinson banged over the touchline conversion to give his side a ten-point lead.
Joe Batchelor found his way through a broken Salford defence with ease, off a delicate Lomax pass, to score by the uprights. Makinson missed a simple looking conversion, but the Red Devils were in real trouble after second half capitulation.
Roby left the field to stadium wide applause with four minutes remaining but neither side could add to their haul, Saints winning with ease after a terrific second half, by 26-12.
As good as Salford were in the first half, Saints were better in the second as they came from behind and looking a poor second best to totally bossing the second forty and cruising to an easy win which lifts them above the Rhinos and into seventh place in the table. It was Roby´s record appearance but the plaudits should go to Jonny Lomax who controlled the game in the second half and slammed the door on Salford´s hopes.
St Helens: Welsby, Ritson, Davies, Hopoate, Makinson (T, 3G), Lomax (T), Dodd, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Sironen (T), Batchelor, Bell (T). Subs: Bennison, Wingfield, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Delaney. 18th Man: Lussick.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley (T), Williams, Costello, Cross, Burgess, Croft (T), Sneyd (2G), Dupree, Ackers, Vuniyayawa, Watkins, Stone, Partington. Subs: Atkin, Wright, Gerrard, Longstaff. 18th Man: Ormondroyd.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 4-12, 6-12: HT: 10-12, 14-12, 16-12, 20-12, 22-12, 26-12: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Salford - St Helens.
Referee: Chris Kendall.