St Helens highlighted just why they are the early season favourites for Super League with a 40-6 thumping of last season’s League Leaders Castleford.
The home side dominated from start to finish as Ben Barba contributed a double try scoring man of the match performance and Mark Percival a hat-trick to get Justin Holbrook’s men off to a flier.
They were 22-0 up inside 27 minutes and although Castleford stopped the rot after the break, Saints finished strongly to record a commanding victory.
After the widow of Saints legend Tom Van Vollenhoven had delivered the match ball to James Child, St Helens delivered a first half of old.
It took them five minutes to break the deadlock, Ben Barba going over in the left corner for what will surely be the first of many tries this season after Saints had broke from deep.
Barba was involved again as Saints backed that score up with a second try. A sharp James Roby burst out of dummy half and the excellent Jon Wilkin surged through a gap, found Barba to his right and as he was closed down, the ball made its way left to Zeb Taia via Roby for a walk in.
Castleford just couldn’t get going, and a knock on by new full back Ben Roberts, shifted to one following Zak Hardaker’s drug ban, put them under more pressure on 22 minutes.
Tommy Makinson went close and then Alex Walmsley, celebrating the announcement of his new four-year deal, was held up over the line.
But the third try would come on 24 minutes and Walmsley had a big part to play in it. His skills in getting down low to chase a kick that looked to be going dead would probably be a long way down the reasons for handing him an important new deal, but he showed great desire to keep the ball alive from Barba’s low kick and presented a simple touchdown for Jonny Lomax.
Lomax himself was thriving in a half-back role alongside Danny Richardson and when Roberts inexplicably allowed a 40/20 kick from Lomax to go in to touch, Saints had the platform for their fourth try.
Again it was Barba involved, his short pass sending Mark Percival breezing through on the left from 10 metres out and the hosts led 22-0 at half time.
Castleford were always going to try and respond in the early exchanges of the second half and they enjoyed their best field position of the match, without really threatening the Saints line. Their game perhaps best summed up by a dropped ball by Trueman under no pressure on the last tackle.
With Saints more than happy to consolidate their position and Castleford lacking that cutting edge, the game went through an anonymous spell.
But Saints would eventually get their fifth try, a dab kick through adjudged to have been put behind by Roberts, and from the resulting drop-out, Percival powered over the line from close range off another Barba pass.
Castleford were given a glimmer of hope on the hour mark when Kyle Amor was shown a yellow card for a high shot, and within a minute, they had got on the board through Paul McShane.
But any momentum they were starting to build was lost when, after Gale had forced a drop out with a short kick in goal, Trueman allowed Richardson’s long drop-out to go through his arms and legs and in touch to let Saints off the hook.
And it was clear this was nothing but Saints’ night when, as Castleford tried to counter, Barba carried a flying Greg Eden, last season’s top try scorer, in to touch as he looked to go long for a try.
From the resulting set, Barba would go over for his second try, taking an inside ball off the impressive Taia to crash over in front of the home fans.
In fact, the only thing that would have made this victory sweeter for Saints was if new club captain Roby, on his 400th appearance, had managed to go all the way when he collected a Roberts knock-on 80 metres out.
As it was, they had to settle for a deserved second try for Taia and a late Percival run in which marked his hat-trick of tries, all from Barba assists.
Elsewhere, Wigan got their season off to a solid start with a 40-12 thumping at Salford.
Liam Marshall scored a hat-trick to send the Warriors off on their adventure to Australia, and next week’s game against Hull, on a positive note.
Hull KR’s return to Super League was spoiled by former coach Chris Chester, whose Wakefield side left Craven Park with 28-6 victory.
Returning winger Tom Johnstone scored a hat-trick, as Trinity led 18-0 at the break and saw out the victory in the second half.
The Championship got underway with a thriller at the Tetley’s Stadium as Dewsbury held off a Sheffield fightback to win 20-18.
The Rams had led 14-0 at half time but were shellshocked by an Eagles fightback that saw them turn the game on its head at 18-14 by the hour mark.
But they managed to grab the decisive score, converted by veteran Paul Sykes, 17 minutes from time and held on to open with a win.
St Helens: Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Subs: Fages, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Knowles.
Castleford: Roberts, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Trueman, Gale, Moors, McShane, Green, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs: Millington, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Cook.