Another match, another win, six on the trot now for the St Helens juggernaut. Leaders Bradford can feel the Super League challengers breathing down their necks following Friday's 26-16 victory by the Saints over Castleford, putting the record straight after that surprise defeat earlier in the season.
The victory – only secured in the last eight minutes through winger Adrian Gardner when the Saints were leading 20-16 – took them to 24 points, behind the Bulls only on points difference, but the leaders have a chance to open the gap today when they visit Salford.
At home on Friday the Saints were without regular goal-kickers Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe, and were indebted to stand-in marksman Paul Wellens. Coach Ian Millward had left Wellens on the bench until just before half-time after his demanding week for Lancashire against Yorkshire in the Origin Series.
But Wellens showed no ill effects and booted five goals from five attempts with an impeccable display. Castleford had led 6-0 with an early try from Danny Orr, converted by Wayne Bartrim.
But Saints recovered with two tries in three minutes from Darren Albert and Peter Shiels, both converted by Tommy Martyn, to lead 12-6. Castleford hit back with Darren Rogers going over in the corner on 21 minutes before an overlap was created for Barrie-Jon Mather to go over, with Bartrim adding his second goal.
Wellens struck his first penalty in injury time just before the break to cut the gap to 16-14. Three more Wellens penalties followed in the second half, before Gardner sealed the points.
Jon Sharp, the St Helens assistant coach, said: "We had to tough it out and roll up our sleeves. It was never going to be a high-scoring game. We chose to kick so many penalties for goal as a sign of our respect for Castleford. Ade Gardner was outstanding on his full debut and came up with a couple of outstanding plays and deserved his try."
Graham Steadman, the Castleford Tigers coach, was full of praise for his side. However, he also showed his disappointment at a result which leaves his team in eighth place on the table.
"It was very frustrating because the penalty count was 13-1 against us with eight minutes to play and they all mounted up. I'm gutted because my players got nothing for their efforts.
"The sooner referees start working closely with the coaches the better. Michael Smith was adamant he had scored a try that was disallowed by the video referee and we thought we were going to win tonight."
Castleford still have not won at Knowsley Road since 1990, but they left the ground thinking that that had thrown away a golden opportunity when the steady flow of penalties they conceded allowed Saints to claw their way back.
Castleford had prop Dean Sampson placed on report for a tackle on Mark Edmondson before the veteran was sin-binned four minutes from time.
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