St Helens moved four points clear at the top of Super League last night but struggled to ward off a determined Harlequins side, whose new coach Brian McDermott was heartened by his first game in control.
McDermott saw his new charges make a great start, when prop Daniel Heckenberg ploughed over after only 65 seconds and fought doggedly to the end, Mark McLinden ensuring an anxious finish by cutting over two minutes from time.
"It was encouraging," McDermott said. "We showed fight, spirit and resilience and I was proud to be involved with a team like that."
Saints struggled for fluency throughout the game. "It was all about the two points, we just had to win," said coach Daniel Anderson. "We had a lot of players in key positions out and we had to mix and match."
Saints fought back from 8-0 down to post three first-half tries. The injured Sean Long's deputy, Matty Smith, pounced on a Luke Dorn error for his first senior try. Keiron Cunningham drove over from dummy half and after McLinden was sin-binned for holding down Smith in the tackle, Jon Wilkin created the opening for Nick Fozzard to open up an 18-8 interval lead.
In the second half, Quins showed the fighting spirit they will need to stay clear of relegation. They kept in contention with tries by Tyrone Smith and Nick Bradley-Qalilawa that were sandwiched by a close-range James Graham effort for Saints. Ade Gardner profited from Jamie Lyon's sublime assist to score 12 minutes from time and a Lyon penalty extended the lead before Quins' late rally.
St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Gilmour, V Anderson; Pryce, Smith; Cayless, Cunningham, P Anderson, Wilkin, Graham, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Fozzard, Hardman, Fa'asavalu.
Harlequins: McLinden; Smith, Gafa, Luisi, Bradley-Qalilawa; Dorn, Leuluai; Mills, Randall, Heckenberg, Purdham, Hopkins, Paul. Substitutes used: Budworth, Weisner, Mbu, Tookey.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).
* Bradford consolidated their Super League top-four position with a 30-16 win over bottom club Catalan Dragons at the Grattan Stadium last night.Reuse content