A nerveless touchline conversion of an equalising try nine seconds from time took Saints to the top of the Super League table yesterday. Saints were heading for their second narrow defeat of the Easter weekend when they staged one of the great escapes they have made a club tradition.
First Ade Gardner got over for a try to cut Castleford's lead to four points with seven minutes to play. Then, with the Tigers out on their feet after a heroic defensive display, Jon Wilkin opened them up down the left for Francis Meli to celebrate his 150th game for the club by touching down.
There was still work to be done, but the cool 20-year-old Jamie Foster landed the winning points with aplomb. "You're never 100 per cent sure, but his average says he's going to kick it," said the coach Royce Simmons, who had seen his side on the wrong end of an equally dramatic finish at Wigan on Good Friday.
Cas had seen the double prize of the league leadership and a first win at Saints in Super League dashed away. "I couldn't ask for any more," said their coach, Terry Matterson. "We were outstanding, we were the better team but we didn't get a call all day."
The first half saw both sides ask plenty of questions, with their defences generally capable of providing the answers. The first near-exception was the Saints' try disallowed for Wilkin's forward pass to Foster. There was no argument about the one that did put them ahead, however, Sia Soliola getting a beautiful one-handed pass out of the tackle to release Tom Armstrong, who had just come on as a replacement for injured Saints back Tommy Makinson.
Foster converted, but was at fault when he fumbled Rangi Chase's kick to concede the field position from which Cas equalised. After Kirk Dixon and Craig Huby had both been stopped on the line, they finally got over through Stuart Jones from Chase's pass. The Tigers edged in front when Dixon added a penalty to his conversion, but a typical Saints' surge, built on the speed of their play-the-ball, put them in front by half-time.
Soliola appeared to lose the ball in a tackle near the try-line, but it finished in the arms of Armstrong, who claimed his second try. Cas were back ahead after the interval, thanks to Chase's brilliant dummy and looked to be on their way to a famous victory when Jordan Thompson got over. Not only did they finish Easter without a point, however, they finished it with their prop, Huby, left with what is feared to be a serious knee injury.
St Helens Makinson; Gardner, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Wilkin, Lomax; Graham, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Ashurst, Puletua. Substitutes used Moore, Dixon, Magennis, Armstrong.
Castleford Mathers; Dixon, Thompson, Arundel, Owen; Chase, Orr; Jackson, Milner, Huby, Jones, Holmes, Aspinwall. Substitutes used Hudson, Emmitt, Snitch, Ferres.
Referee P Bentham (Warrington).