A hat-trick of tries from Tom Makinson helped St Helens see off Castleford in a sweltering match in which James Roby’s World Cup place was thrown into doubt after he left the field injured.
Outplayed in the first half, Saints showed the tenacity they will need to hang onto their play-off place in the second. This would have looked like a routine fixture earlier in the season, but it appeared to be anything but that on the eve of this match thanks to Castleford’s improvement under head coach Daryl Powell and the visitors’ continuing search for form.
Saints’ bench yesterday included the 18-year-old debutant Greg Richards and at the other end of the scale the club captain Paul Wellens.
In the event they needed all of Wellens’ vast experience as much as they did the agreed extra drinks breaks, especially when they lost the England hooker Roby inside the first quarter with a foot injury that could keep him out for 10 weeks, and when they went 16-6 down.
All three of Castleford’s first-half tries were set up by the brilliant Rangi Chase, with only Makinson’s first effort keeping the visitors in touch. Just before half time, however, Jonny Lomax ran through Castleford’s defence to touch down and Saints were on the comeback trail. “We should have been further ahead at half-time, but we never got a grip in the second,” said Powell.
His St Helens counterpart, Nathan Brown, had no doubt what had made the difference. “We defended Rangi Chase much better in the second half,” he said. “He played in a dinner suit in the first.”
Tries by Luke Thompson and Jordan Turner put Saints ahead after the interval, although Justin Carney hit back for Castleford.
The Tigers were hunting the try that would have put them back in front when Makinson intercepted Jordan Tansey’s pass and went 90 metres to touch down at the other end. His third, three minutes later, virtually sealed the win and although Chase got his name on the scoresheet, Alex Walmsley had the last word for Saints.
* The balance of power on Humberside shifted in Hull KR’s direction as they came from behind to beat Salford 28-18. Hull lost 22-16 to Huddersfield.