Saints went back into third place in Super League, but only after a mighty struggle against the rock-bottom Harlequins. Two late tries from James Roby swung the game, but there was encouragement for Quins in the spirited and skilful way they competed against one of the elite.
"I'm a proud man tonight and we lost," said the Quins coach, Brian McDermott, who has effectively ruled himself out of contention for the England coaching job by insisting that he intends to be at Quins next season.
The struggling London side brought Kevin Penny straight in for his debut on loan from Warrington, in a line-up showing positional changes aimed at getting the best out of limited resources. Penny, one of the game's great untapped talents, made a bright start, forcing an early mistake from Gary Wheeler and having a little dart at the defensive line that was only negated by an ankle-tap tackle.
It was a most encouraging opening phase by Quins, which was rewarded with the first try after 12 minutes. It sprang from some excellent handling in the forwards, culminating in Danny Ward and Luke Williamson sending another talented loan player, Ben Jones-Bishop, under the sticks.
The surprise lead lasted only six minutes before Saints equalised in rather unsatisfactory style. There was nothing wrong with Tony Puletua's barnstorming run, but then there seemed to be a forward pass and a dodgy play-the-ball – an offence for which Quins' Louie McCarthy- Scarsbrook had just been penalised – before Andrew Dixon's score, though the officials saw nothing wrong. A strapped Kyle Eastmond converted from the touchline to bring the scores level, and against all the odds that was the way they stayed until half-time.
Saints' stalwart Keiron Cunningham was responsible for changing this state of affairs early in the second half, although the short pass that released Eastmond also looked forward. Typically, Saints struck again immediately afterwards, Dixon going over for his second from James Graham's pass.
There was no white flag from Quins, who reduced the deficit with Penny's brilliant leap to take Luke Gale's kick and run around behind the goal posts. Astonishingly, on 55 minutes they were level again, Williamson finding a gap after Chad Randall's pass.
Roby's characteristic thrust from dummy half put Saints back in front, but their insecurity showed in Eastmond's decision to kick a penalty to go with his conversions, before Roby pounced for his second. Even then, Tony Clubb's try two minutes from time gave Quins an upbeat finish.
Harlequins Jones-Bishop; Penny, Clubb, Purdham, Sharp; Gale, Randall; McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Orr, Ward, Williamson, Golden, Melling. Substitutes used: Wilkes, Jones, Bryan, Esders.
St Helens Pryce; Gardner, Dean, Wheeler, Meli; Wilkin, Eastmond; Graham, Roby, Puletua, Dixon, Flannery, Clough. Substitutes used: Fa'asavalu, Hargreaves, Cunningham, Ashurst.
Referee: J Child (Batley).Reuse content