St Helens climbed above Bradford, so often their rivals in the summer rugby era, to go eighth in the Super League table on Sunday as Langtree Park welcomed back two individuals who could be crucial over the rest of the campaign.
The Saints and the Bulls were unarguably the two dominant sides of the first decade of Super League, but there might not be room for both of them in the play-offs this year. Of the two teams, the omens look more propitious for the Saints.
One player does not make a team, but the return of two key men has rejuvenated St Helens to the extent that they look much more like their old selves. James Roby, making his first start at hooker on his return from injury, instantly injected the speed at the play-the-ball that St Helens have been so badly lacking, although Bradford should have prevented Willie Manu from wrestling his way over when he took his short pass from dummy-half after 10 minutes.
Jonny Lomax, playing in his first match for three months having recovered from a hamstring injury, took a little longer to make an impact, but he was instrumental in setting up Tommy Makinson for Saints' second try seven minutes later.
Given their financial constraints, the Bulls have probably overachieved already this season and they showed commendable resilience in this game. They did not stage an attack until the half-hour, but when they did, Adam Sidlow sent Brett Kearney over for a try that made the scoreline look deceptively close for such a one-sided half.
The score offered a fairer reflection of the balance of play when Sia Soliola took Jon Wilkin's pass and battered his way over in typically determined fashion five minutes before the break.
When Danny Addy's pass to Sidlow went to ground early in the second half and Josh Jones picked up to go 60 metres forward, it looked as though Saints too might run away with the contest. But credit is due to the Bulls for their grit and determination. Even without their best attacking player, Jarrod Sammut, they fashioned two further tries.
First Matty Blythe wrestled his way over the line and then Elliot Kear launched himself spectacularly to catch and touch down Luke Gale's cross-field kick.
With Roby back in the side, however, Saints have another gear they can slip into when required, and they did just that as his lightning-fast pass to Wilkin created the try that removed all doubt.
Saints still have some way to go to be the dominant force they were not too long ago, but with plenty of youthful potential and the right men in key positions, they can be highly competitive for the rest of this season. And, if they do make the play-offs, they would represent tricky opponents for anyone. For Bradford, the top eight would be a bonus, but they do not look ready to give up hope of it just yet.
St Helens Wellens; Makinson, Turner, Jones, Meli; Lomax, O'Brien; Puletua, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Wilkin. Substitutes used Walmsley, Hand, Clough, Howarth.
Bradford Kearney; Kear, Blythe, Lulia, Platt; Addy, GaLe; Scruton, L'Estrange, Langley, Bateman, Olbison, Donaldson. Substitutes used Diskin, Evans, Roberts, Sidlow.
Referee T Alibert.Reuse content