Authors: Rio Sports
Whether it is Castleford on Thursday or Leeds 24 hours later in the semi-finals, it is increasingly clear St Helens are in no mood to let this season peter out with a whimper.
When Justin Holbrook arrived on these shores in May and inherited a side whose fate appeared more likely to be in a battle to avoid the Qualifiers as opposed to the race for Old Trafford, few would have fancied St Helens being in this position.
Even a fortnight ago, when they were three points adrift of the play-off places, Saints were the outsiders. But their ninth win in their past 14 games means they are now all-but guaranteed a place in the play-offs. Only a 90-point (or more) win for Wigan at Wakefield on Saturday can deny them.
The game undoubtedly changed after Ryan Lannon’s 37th-minute dismissal for a dangerous challenge on Theo Fages, but before and after that flashpoint, Saints were made to work hard.
That red card came seconds after the Red Devils felt aggrieved Alex Walmsley was not punished for an incident involving Jordan Walne but the Salford coach, Ian Watson, refused to blame that for Lannon’s moment of madness. “It’s a young kid getting frustrated,” he said. “Maybe if there’s a sin-bin before he doesn’t do it but he’s done a dumb thing.”
It was perhaps fitting that Salford’s season – one that is undoubtedly a step forward on last year when they narrowly avoided relegation – finished with an effort bound by positives. But this was St Helens’ night and, a moment of controversy aside, Walmsley was sensational throughout.
He scored two of Saints’ five tries and his coach was highly complimentary saying: “He was outstanding. I don’t pick it [the England team for the World Cup] but he’s the best front-rower in the competition.”
Tries from Mark Percival and Walmsley put the Saints 10-4 up before Lannon’s red card. From there, as gamely as Salford battled, Zeb Taia confirmed the win as the game entered the final quarter, before Walmsley’s second and a try from Ben Barba ensured that, barring a mathematical miracle, we will see St Helens again next week.
Salford Evalds; Bibby, Welham, Sa’u, Vatuvei; Lui, O’Brien; Murray, Tomkins, Hauraki, Murdoch-Masila, Jones, McCarthy. Interchange Kopczak, Brining, Lannon, Walne.
St Helens Barba; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Fages, Richardson; Douglas, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Knowles, Wilkin. Interchange Smith, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Peyroux.
Tries Percival, Walmsley 2, Taia. Goals Percival 4
Referee J Child.
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