Fresh from demolishing the Rhinos on Friday night, the reigning Champions and Champions elect took on the Salford Red Devils in what was, on paper, another one-sided encounter on a Monday evening as St Helens and Salford re-enacted last years Grand Final.
Saints retained the services of Alex Walmsley despite him picking up a two match ban for a Grade C dangerous tackle in the Leeds game (his ban not coming into effect until midnight tonight) as they named a youthful squad including five debutants; Nico Rizzelli, Ben Davies, Jake Wingfield, Tom Nisbet, and Matthew Foster.
Salford had unsettling news in the camp with their coach Ian Watson being widely linked with a potential move to Hull FC but on the field they welcomed back Dan Sarginson who had been self-isolating since before the Challenge Cup final.
Just two minutes had elapsed before Dominic Peyroux beat two defenders before passing inside to Josh Eaves who went in for a first try in a Saints jersey. Lewis Dodd added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
A Tyrone McCarthy ball strip gifted Dodd a penalty goal on ten minutes to extend the lead. Dodd added another penalty on eighteen minutes, Salford struggling to get a look in against a dominant Saints.
Salford were having a nightmare, particularly Krisnan Inu with the boot, but Saints were making mistakes too, many within the Red Devils twenty. It wasn’t pretty but Saints looked more than comfortable and seemed in no danger.
But with just a minute left in the half, Pauli Pauli took a pass from Tui Lolohea and pushed five Saints defenders out of the way to get the ball on the ground for a try. Pauli injured himself in the act of scoring but when Inu added the conversion there were just four points separating the sides at the interval.
A cruel mistake from Saints debutant Tom Nisbet, fifteen minutes into the second half, saw the youngster dislodging the ball from his own grasp short of the line as he slid in unopposed, Salford breathed again
A brilliant Sarginson tackle on Josh Simm saw the centre pushed into touch on the Salford twenty.
Lolohea went close on sixty-five, held up just short of the line by Ben Davies. Good Salford pressure on seventy came to nothing as they lost the ball after a long pass was put to ground by Rhys Williams.
There was a catalogue of errors from both sides as they chased the crucial score. With five minutes left Inu scored, bouncing off his tackler and diving over the Saints defenders after Pauli had pressured the line and offloaded. Inu added the goal from the touchline for a 12-10 lead with just three minutes left on the clock.
There is no denying that this was a young and inexperienced side against a Salford side who were close to full strength and looking to get a win after a big beating in the last round. Saints streaked into an early lead but as the game wore on it was the experience which finally shone through to snatch a win over the Champions. Saints will look upon the result as a worthwhile experiment and a good way to blood a few youngsters, but Ian Watson will be delighted that his side picked up the win.
Salford Red Devils: Sarginson, Williams, Chamberlain, Kear, Inu (T, 2G), Lolohea, Atkin, Mossop, Ackers, Yates, McCarthy, Pauli (T), Burke. Subs: Lussick, Dudson, Jones, Roberts.
St Helens: Costello, Rizzelli, Simm, Davies, Nisbet, Welsby, Dodd (3G), Walmsley, Eaves (T), Batchelor, Paulo, Peyroux, Graham. Subs: Ashworth, Smith, Foster, Wingfield.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Half Time: 6-10.
Full Time: 12-10.
Venue: Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds.