St Helens maintained their four-point cushion at the top of Super League thanks to a 50-14 hammering of Catalans.
The Saints at the top of the Super League ladder, four points above second-placed Warrington Wolves, who also enjoyed a victory over Huddersfield Giants on Sunday afternoon.
Justin Holbrook made six changes to his side that battered Hull FC on Easter Monday. Matty Costello, Theo Fages, Aaron Smith, Alex Walmsley, Zeb Taia and James Bentley came in for Tommy Makinson, Jonny Lomax, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Morgan Knowles and Lachlan Coote.
Catalans coach Steve McNamara made two changes to his outfit that beat Castleford Tigers last time out. Matty Smith and Benjamin Jullien replaced Greg Bird and Jason Baitieri.
The Dragons opened the scoring at the Totally Wicked Stadium thanks to Brayden Wiliame. Catalans winger David Mead left the field in the ninth minute following a collision with Regan Grace and didn’t return to the field.
Saints scored in the set after Mead was stretchered off through Adam Swift, while Taia gave the hosts the lead midway through the first half.
Smith flew through a gap to extend Saints’ lead on the half hour mark but the try came at a cost. A brawl broke out in the aftermath of Smith’s effort and Saints forward Joseph Paulo was sin-binned for running in.
Catalans were dealt another blow in the second quarter as back-rower Kenny Edwards left the field with concussion and failed to make it back out on the field.
Fiji international Wiliame got his second late in the first half, and the Dragons only trailed 16-10 at the break.
Second half tries from Fages, Dom Peyroux and Costello saw St Helens go into a 32-10 lead, before Lewis Tierney replied with a try for the Dragons.
Welsby completed a stellar display with a try, while Costello scored two more late on to complete his hat-trick for Saints as they secured a fine 50-14 victory against the Dragons.
Three talking points
Welsby is a future international
Saints’ superstar Coote was rested for the game, which gave an opportunity to England Academy sensation Welsby. Boy oh boy, he certainly didn’t let coach Holbrook down with his gleaming performance.
The 18-year-old made his debut for St Helens in 2018, helping them clinch the League Leaders’ Shield with a win over Hull FC and he has really kicked on with some of his displays in the Red V this season.
Welsby, who has represented Lancashire at Academy Origin level, came through the junior ranks at Shevington Sharks and Blackbrook Royals prior to becoming a full-time professional. He is primarily a full-back, but can also play in the halves or at centre. He will play for England’s senior side one day.
St Helens boast plenty of strength in depth
Holbrook rung the changes to his side following the hectic Easter schedule but you could hardly tell it was a ‘weakened’ team because the youngsters who came in stood up brilliantly against a massive Catalans pack.
Swift kept his place in the side and his bulky frame certainly favoured the Saints against the Dragons. Costello impressed in the centres, while Frenchman Fages added stability and steadiness in the middle of the park.
Smith continues to shine whenever he fills in for veteran Roby. Could he be the next Roby? It wouldn’t be fair to heap that much pressure on the No. 9, but he could certainly make a name for himself at Saints.
The likes of Bentley, Jack Ashworth and Joe Batchelor all did very well, too. They weren’t fazed by the size of Catalans.
Catalans struggle away from home
It has been the same story since the Dragons were welcomed into Super League back in 2006. They have always been a strong team at home, with many teams struggling to get a positive result in Perpignan.
However, they have constantly struggled when playing games away from their French home. They have won just two out of six games on the road so far in 2019, which simply isn’t good enough.
There is no doubt the Challenge Cup holders boast a hell of a lot of talent throughout their squad but they need to start winning games in England if they are to pick up silverware again anytime soon.
Line-ups and ratings
St Helens: Welsby (9); Swift (8), Naiqama (7), Costello (7), Grace (7); Fages (8), Richardson (8); Lees (8), Smith (9), Walmsley (8), Taia (8), Peyroux (8), Paulo (7). Subs: Amor (7), Bentley (7), Ashworth (8), Batchelor (6).
Tries: Swift, Taia, Smith, Fages, Peyroux, Costello (3), Welsby Goals: Richardson 7/9
Catalans: Gigot (6); Mead (5), Langi (6), Wiliame (8), Tierney (7); Tomkins (7), Smith (6); Bousquet (7), Da Costa (6), Moa (6), Jullien (5), Whitley (7), Casty (7). Subs: Edwards (5), Simon (7), Goudemand (7), Kasiano (6).
Tries: Wiliame (2), Tierney Goals: Tomkins 1/3
It’s very hard to see anyone shifting St Helens off the top of the Super League table this season and I fully expect them to retain the League Leaders’ Shield.
An observation which is pretty clear to see is that Holbrook is rotating his squad a lot more this year compared to 2018. It’s not bad when you can call upon the likes of Welsby, Swift, Smith and Ashworth is it?
Moving on, I’ve watched Catalans quite a lot this yearn television and in the flesh. At home, they are a robust side but their away form has been way under par. They have been easily defeated at St Helens and Wigan, while their win away at Hull KR was by the narrowist of margins. They have to pick up their away form rapidly if they want to get into the top five come the end of the regular campaign.
Elsewhere in Super League
Hull FC 30-14 Wakefield Trinity
Leeds Rhinos 28-24 Hull Kingston Rovers
Warrington Wolves 50-19 Huddersfield Giants