St Helens showed they have the character and depth to mount a serious Super League challenge when they made light of the loss of half of their regular pack to sweep past Hull on Friday night and move to the top of the table.
Their coach, Ian Millward, could hardly contain his delight at the way his young forwards got to grips with their counterparts and laid the foundation for a superb 33-14 victory. Scrum-half Sean Long stole the show with a try and five goals to become only the third player, behind Andy Farrell (Wigan) and Iestyn Harris (Leeds), to break the 1,000-point barrier in Super League but it was the way his new-look pack out-muscled the big Hull six that most pleased Millward.
"Look at some of the players who were out – Joynt, Britt and Shiels – really big men with a lot of ability who are important to our organisation," he said.
"I felt before kick-off we were very quiet. There were a couple of senior people missing from the dressing room. Today was another lesson in how to handle a situation with senior players out. It put a lot of responsibility on other people.
"I thought Jonkers had an outstanding game but everyone contributed. The game is not about quantity, it's about quality. It was very enjoyable for a Saints supporter and I am one proud coach."
Hull arrived at Knowsley Road as joint leaders following their emphatic win over Leeds but, with an identical team, they were handed a lesson in clinical finishing.
They had the encouragement of a first-half interception try from centre Toa Kohe-Love but were blown away by a three-try burst either side of half-time, the highlight of which was a sizzling effort by the Australian speed merchant Darren Albert, who took a superb pass from the centre Martin Gleeson to scorch over the line from 50 metres. "I can't wait to get home to watch the video," said a delighted Millward. "He was too quick for me."
Saints led 30-14 before Hull rallied with late tries from threequarters Gareth Raynor and Graham Mackay but their misery was compounded by injuries to Richard Horne (ankle) and Lee Jackson (shoulder), who are both doubtful for Thursday's trip to reigning champions Bradford Bulls.
In the night's other match, Leeds centre Keith Senior scored two tries to take his career total to a century and help the Rhinos to a remarkable 50-28 victory at Warrington.
Leeds ran in nine tries but their victory was far from straightforward, with referee Steve Ganson calling for video adjudication nine times in a high-octane affair that had the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout.
The Wolves twice led but their challenge was ultimately killed off by two late tries from winger Marcus St Hilaire.
Rhinos coach Daryl Powell said: "I though we were absolutely outstanding in the first half and how Warrington were still in the game at half-time is beyond me.
"But we gave them an opportunity to win the game and that is something you cannot do against the top teams."
In the short term, St Helens' reign at the top of the table could be short-lived. The champions, Bradford Bulls, will overtake Saints this afternoon if they can beat Widnes by at least 13 points at Halton Stadium. Elsewhere today, the London Broncos go to Castleford thirsting for revenge for their Challenge Cup defeat.Reuse content