Cruising at 26-6 after 45 minutes against Hull on Friday night, Saints looked to be coping admirably without their star play-maker Kyle Eastmond.
Hull then ran in 21 unanswered points, including the game clinching drop goal from the ever-green Danny Tickle, with just minutes left on the clock. The momentum had swung irreversibly in Hull’s favour in the second half, resulting in St Helens’ second loss in three Super League games.
In their previous league outing, Saints had looked irresistible against a faltering Hull KR side, scoring 13 tries in a rampaging 68-12 victory. Then came the Challenge Cup win over Barrow, and the injury to Eastmond.
Without Eastmond, Saints lost their way somewhat against Barrow, and then again in spectacular fashion against Hull. That says a lot about the influence the young England international on this St Helens team, as he directs their play and dictates their attacking game in a way that no other player can, despite the presence of a whole raft of vastly experienced players in the side. It would also seem to vindicate their decision to let former hero, Sean Long move to Hull at the end of last season. But like Hull, Saints have now proved somewhat toothless when their new number seven has been forced to sit games out.
And things don’t look like getting any easier for Saints in the short term, as they face an in-form Huddersfield side this Friday, without prop forward James Graham and the versatile James Roby, who are both including in England’s 19-man squad to play France on Saturday. Huddersfield too, may be without the services of two of their best players, as Kevin Brown and Shaun Lunt have been put on stand-by by England coach Steve McNamara, but nevertheless go into the game on the back on a confidence-boosting 52-6 victory over the Bradford Bulls.
Saints then travel to top-of-the-table Wigan on Sunday 20th June, and are likely to still be without Eastmond, whose return has been penciled in for the round 20 fixture against Leeds, two weeks later.
St Helens coach, Mick Potter must be hoping that some of his experienced players – the likes of Paul Wellens, Leon Pryce and Keiron Cunningham – can help fill the void left by Eastmond, and inspire his side to victories in those crucial next two games. Should Saints slip up, then both Hull and Leeds look ready to pounce into third spot, as Super League begins it’s march towards the play-offs in earnest, with only ten regular weekly rounds remaining.