St Helens proved too strong for Salford in their former assistant Richard Marshall’s first game in charge of the Red Devils.
Grand Final winner Jack Welsby kicked a drop goal ahead of the half-time hooter as the reigning champions led 13-0 at Headingley.
But Salford stayed in the fight and the game was finely poised at 13-6 before Mark Percival scored his first try since the 2019 Grand Final meeting between the two sides to break the Red Devils’ resolve.
Both sides were without first choice full-back in Lachlan Coote and Morgan Escare, with Saints handing debuts to their trio of signings from the NRL Joel Thompson, Sione Mata’utia and Agnatius Paasi.
And they got off to the perfect start inside two minutes, as winger Tommy Makinson – one of three players on the pitch celebrating a testimonial year in 2021 – rose above opposite number Krisnan Inu to contest a Theo Fages kick and came up with a typically agile finish; managing to ground the ball while falling to the ground in a sitting position.
A few errors hampered Salford in getting out their own end but they stayed resolute, though were relieved to see scores for Percival and Jonny Lomax chalked off by the video referee.
But the 2020 Challenge Cup finalists showed enough of a threat, with veteran Kevin Brown, one of the testimonial trio, showing some nice touches as they looked to unlock the Saints defence.
Such was Saints’ acknowledgement of the battle that when they earned a kickable penalty on 27 minutes, Makinson took the two to add to his earlier touchline conversion for 8-0.
Regan Grace was the beneficiary of a Salford mistake to get a second try on the board and Welsby’s drop goal in front of the posts made it 13-0 at half-time.
The second half was held up when Paasi was helped off after a nasty collision with Pauli Pauli, and Salford again dug in – eventually earning their reward through Ken Sio’s converted try.
A short side play enabled Percival to restore the 13 point lead, though the game still felt available for Salford until an Inu error seven minutes from time gifted a walk-in for Kevin Naiqama and big Alex Walmsley rubbed salt in the wounds with a fifth try minutes from the end.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Thompson, Bentley, Mata’utia. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Paasi, Smith.
Tries: Makinson, Grace, Percival, Naiqama, Walmsley. Goals: Makinson 4. Drop goal: Welsby.
Salford: Sarginson, Sio, Watkins, Kear, Inu, Lolohea, Brown, Mossop, Addy, Ikahihifo, Livett, Lannon, Taylor. Subs: Pauli, Ormondroyd, Wells, Patton.
Try: Sio. Goal: Inu.