Free-scoring St Helens demonstrated their defensive prowess to grind out a 10-0 victory over Castleford to make it three wins out of three since the resumption of Super League.
It was a far cry from their 48-0 rout of Leeds a week earlier as a solitary try four minutes from the end by scrum-half Theo Fages finally secured victory in captain James Roby’s 500th appearance for the club.
Up to then, just two penalty goals from full-back Lachlan Coote separated the sides as Castleford, the last team to beat the champions back in March, eyed up a first away win over St Helens since 1992.
Yet the Tigers, who handed a debut to former Warrington and Salford full-back Gareth O’Brien, rarely threatened a defence which has conceded just one try in 240 minutes since Saints re-started Super League three weeks ago against Catalans Dragons.
Castleford were forced to play hooker Paul McShane at stand-off in the absence of Jake Trueman with a back injury and had Alex Foster, a specialist second row forward, at centre in place of the suspended Peter Mata’utia but they battled manfully throughout.
St Helens had England centre Mark Percival back from a hamstring injury but he went off after 25 minutes and Castleford put the shackles on Wales winger Regan Grace following his spectacular hat-trick against Leeds.
The main talking point of a rare scoreless first half was the decision of referee James Child to place St Helens’ England winger Tom Makinson on report for allegedly grabbing the testicles of Castleford prop Liam Watts, an act described as “inappropriate contact”.
If found guilty, Makinson could be given up to an eight-match ban, the punishment handed out to Bradford hooker George Flanagan, the last player to be punished for similar action 12 months ago.
Percival had produced a fleeting moment of class during his short time on the field with a half-break and a pass that Coote could not take while forwards Kyle Amor and Matty Lees were both held up over the line as Castleford defended heroically.
The visitors rarely got close to the champions’ tryline and failed to make the most of a 40-20 kick from former Saints scrum-half Danny Richardson, who was making return to the Totally Wicked Stadium for the first time since his close-season move across the Pennines.
Coote eventually put the first points on the scoreboard with a penalty eight minutes into the second half after Castleford prop Grant Millington was sin-binned for a late tackle on Saints stand-off Jonny Lomax.
Lees was then held inches short and, when the Tigers were pulled for interference at the ruck, Coote took the opportunity to double his side’s lead with a second penalty.
Grace went close to touching down Lomax’s pass and he was held on his back five minutes from the end as Saints continued to do most of the pressing right to the end.
And their perseverance eventually paid off when a trademark charge through the heart of the Castleford defence by prop Alex Walmsley created an opening for Coote to send Fages over for the only try, which Coote converted.