Sydney Roosters retained the World Club Challenge title with a 20-12 win over battling Super League champions St Helens.
The back-to-back NRL winners out-scored the hosts by four tries to two, but Saints made a game of it for 70 minutes until Luke Keary’s try put the Australians out of sight.
The win means the Roosters now stand alone as the most successful side in the competition’s history, having won it five times including their first, as Eastern Suburbs back in 1976, as well as becoming the first to win it back-to-back.
It was a fifth defeat in the match for St Helens, who will have been encouraged by the improvement shown from their last defeat, a 39-0 humbling at the hands of South Sydney on the same ground five years ago.
St Helens’ feared forward pack took it to the NRL champions from the start, with Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson getting in the thick of things early on.
Walmsley tempted Victor Radley for a brief punch up three minutes in, which distracted the Roosters defence to allow Dom Peyroux space to make a breat, though from the subsequent play the ball close to the line Jack Welsby put down a sharp pass by James Roby.
They would gain a reward for their lively start on six minutes when NRL-bound prop Luke Thompson, set to join Canberra Raiders at the end of the season, clung on to a pass by Theo Fages who’d had a lively probe at the Roosters line to reach over for the opening try.
Playing in their first game of the year, the Roosters took it up a notch, and they moved up the field with alarming speed. It was a last tackle play on 11 minutes that got them on the board, they decided to run it from 10 metres out and quick hands on the left enabled Daniel Tupou to pick the ball up off his toes and stride in, though Kyle Flanagan hit the post with the conversion meaning Saints held a narrow 6-4 lead.
A shift right almost saw a carbon copy try, but this time winger Brett Morris couldn’t replicate the agility of Tupou and Saints’ survived.
Not for long though, an inside ball off Jared Waerea-Hargreaves put the lightning James Tedesco through a gap to feed Mitch Aubusson, and when the back-rower was tackled, there wasn’t enough time for Saints’ defence to reset and Joseph Manu cruised over on the right.
To Saints’ credit they dug in and the game turned in to an unspectacular arm wrestle. The hosts were relieved not to lose Walmsley for the game following a concussion assessment and would have taken belief from keeping it at 8-6 at half time.
Their defence creaked in the closing stages of the half, Kevin Naiqama twice denying Tupou, ankle-tapping the winger when he threatened to race away having picked up a loose ball, and then a big one-on-one tackle on Angus Crichton five metres out.
Then the versatile James Bentley, playing in the centres having deputised at hooker in the absence of James Roby in recent weeks, did just enough to put off Manu from collecting and grounding Flanagan’s cross-field kick.
With the Roosters playing in to a sharp Merseyside wind at the start of the second half, the Saints could sense blood but they just couldn’t find their way over the line.
Theo Fages forced a repeat set with a kick in goal, and on 49 minutes, Tommy Makinson thought he had burrowed his way over from close range, only to be denied by the video referee. Paulo might have wanted another go at the kick from Lomax that he looked in pole position to catch.
Missing three of their first choice backline in Lachlan Coote, Mark Percival and Regan Grace, makeshift left-side Bentley and Matty Costello then made a hash of a half chance close to the left touchline after Saints had opened up the Roosters with a lovely tip pass by Zeb Taia on to Lomax.
A couple of penalties gave Roosters some respite and field position, but it wasn’t long until Saints were back – Makinson showing his trademark acrobatics to keep alive a Jack Welsby kick that looked certain for touch, resulting in Sitili Tupouniua being tackled in to touch close to his own line.
That gave Saints another set to look at the Roosters line, but again Trent Robinson’s side had all the answers to their questions – Makinson eventually forced in to touch after taking Paulo’s pass.
A killer blow came on the hour, just as captain Roby was waiting to re-enter proceedings on the sidelines, as Roosters created a shift to the right and the Saints left edge was exposed, Manu proving too strong to keep out. Flanagan missed the touchline conversion to ensure Saints remained within a score.
Makinson did have a chance on the right but with 11 minutes left, the Roosters made sure – Siosiua Taukeiaho bursting through the middle and finding Keary on his shoulder to race away for a long-range try.
Taukeiaho dusted himself off to land the Roosters’ first conversion of the night, and a few minutes later added a penalty goal to stretch the lead to 20-6 and three scores.
Saints did give their home supporters something to cheer late on, Walmsley getting a try that his individual efforts more than deserved with two minutes or so to go in front of 16,108 at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Naiqama, Bentley, Costello, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Paulo, Smith.
Tries: Thompson (6), Walmsley (78). Goals: Makinson 2.
Sydney Roosters: Tedesco, Tupou, Crichton, Manu, Morris, Keary, Flanagan, Waerea-Hargreaves, Friend, Taukeiaho, Tupouniua, Aubusson, Radley. Subs: Verrills, Liu, Butcher, Collins.
Tries: Tupou (12), Manu (22, 61), Keary (69). Goals: Taukeiaho 2.