St Helens bolstered their hopes of a top-two finish with a narrow 18-6 triumph against play-off contenders Warrington Wolves, a third victory against the same opponents in 2023 and an eighth straight win overall.
Here are our five takeaways from the televised Round 26 clash at the Halliwell Jones Stadium…
A game of two halves
Though Saints were leading both at half time and come the final hooter, this clash still very much deserves that tagline attaching to it.
The visitors dominated the first 40 minutes on their travels, and raced into a 12-0 lead. At one point, the Wolves had made just two play-of-the-balls in their opponent’s half compared to 32 in the opposite direction.
Warrington roused a little towards the end of the first half, and came out all guns blazing at the restart, powering over for a try just before the hour-mark and undoubtedly rattling the Red Vee.
Only some impeccable defence, and a few mistakes in attack, stopped the Wire getting themselves back on level terms, and had they done you feel they may well have gone on to win the game.
Moses Mbye crossed for a try on the hooter to give the scoreline a more comfortable feel than the second half performance from the hosts deserved, a truly pulsating Super League affair and a great advert for the competition.
Warrington lacking leadership
Gary Chambers’ Wolves deserve praise for their second half performance, and we’re happy to provide them with that, but they also must take criticism for the lack of leadership on show.
George Williams missed out with a thigh injury, and leadership in their camp when he’s not on the field was a topic discussed by the Sky Sports pundits pre-match.
Barrie McDermott said he ‘didn’t know’ who their leader would be, and that in truth proved the case. The business of singling players out isn’t one we enjoy, but Josh Drinkwater in particular – as one of the experienced heads in the Wolves pack – was poor in his play and his attitude throughout.
At times, he appeared more interested in berating referee Jack Smith over decisions than getting it right with the ball in hand, and we’re sure that’ll be flagged in the review tomorrow morning.
Youth shines through in both camps
In contrast, we wanted to highlight the impressive performance of Warrington youngster Leon Hayes, making just a third senior appearance and his first of the year.
The 19-year-old was drafted in by interim boss Chambers, and standing at 5 feet 3 inches, you wondered how he’d fare against such a physically dominant Saints side. A really good kicking game and some weaving drives proved any doubters wrong, one for the future.
Saints full-back Jack Welsby meanwhile is only three years older, but he’s such an important cog in Paul Wellens’ system with the Red Vee, and he proved exactly why again tonight.
Two try-savers, one in each half, will be the moments remembered from the win for Welsby, but his work ethic to keep opponents out is second to none. The scary part is that his best years probably still lie ahead for the England international!
Saints will sweat on Bennison ban
Another St Helens youngster in Jon Bennison was unselfish when he pulled back Matty Nicholson as Connor Wrench broke down the right with just a few minutes remaining.
He did so knowing it would result in a penalty and a subsequent sin-binning, and it was absolutely necessary to stop the hosts going through to get themselves back on level terms, but the subsequent yellow means he’s left sweating.
The Match Review Panel will, as always, take a look at the incident and you’d imagine they may well hit him with a suspension.
They host Hull FC in the final game of the regular season next week, and then it’s onto the play-offs.
Wire skipper bids farewell with strong performance against new employers
Daryl Clark captained Warrington in his final home game, one of the six names on their departures list announced yesterday, against the team he’ll be joining next year.
With the contract already signed at Saints, he didn’t need to impress his future employers, but he certainly did just that by proving a thorn in their side throughout, particularly in that second 40.
Crossing for the aforementioned try on the hour-mark, he led the way forward for his teammates and tried to set the tone for what they needed to do to get one over on Saints.
He’ll replace a legend of the game at the Totally Wicked Stadium in 2024 in James Roby, and if he performs as he did tonight for Saints, we’re sure he’ll become a fan favourite there quickly.