There was an end-of-season feel on show at Langtree Park on Friday night as St Helens cruised to a 44-12 win over Castleford Tigers.
12, 224 fans took to Merseyside as the Tigers’ feeble form continued to allow St Helens a firm grip on their top-four place in the Super League table. The bridge leading to Langtree Park was reminiscent of a mini-Wembley Way as supporters made their way to rugby league’s newest stadium on a sunny midsummer’s evening. Tributes to players, past and present, inside and outside of the stadium proudly decorates the impressive stadium which is a wonderful addition for rugby league’s loyal band of travellers.
Tigers fans made themselves heard at the start of proceedings but the Saints took the lead in the 8th minute when Jonny Lomax’s grubber kick was landed by Anthony Laffranchi and Tommy Makinson kicked a simple goal. Handling errors on their next two attacks prevented St Helens increasing the advantage and this nearly proved costly as Castleford came close to scoring their opening try, but were somehow repelled, firstly, by the posts and, secondly, thanks to Paul Wellens’ full-bodied tackle on the left wing.
On 21 minutes, a speedy move through the centre allowed Wellens to go for glory and earn himself four points following Chris Flannery’s clever reverse pass and Makinson kicked the extras. The Tigers hit back five minutes later with Paul Jackson burying himself under a few Saints’ bodies to give the vocal away fans some cheer. Danny Orr lofted the conversion through the posts and a quiet Langtree Park watched on nervously with the home team struggling to establish a noticeable foothold over their lowly opponents.
The tension was eased eight minutes before half-time as Wellens hurled the ball wide into Makinson’s grateful grasp and the right-winger courageously grounded the ball by the corner post before being forced hard down onto the turf by the Cas defence. Whether dazed by the challenge or not, Makinson’s conversion attempt was sent well wide of the posts but the error was forgotten about as Flannery flattened Lomax’s kick over the try line with a couple of minutes to spare before the interval.
Makinson shot wide once again but the home faithful could be consoled by the 20-6 scoreline achieved in an unconvincing first-half display. The dull events of the game weren’t matching the pleasing aesthetics of the stadium and perhaps if Castleford had scored a few more tries then the excitement levels could have been raised but the half-time score suggested that a comfortable home win was on the cards.
After a fairly quiet opening 10 second-half minutes, which saw Francis Meli’s near ‘butter fingers’ moment in his defensive 10 and Flannery’s high-tackle on Richard Owen provoke the only reactions from a muted crowd, a promising Castleford attack went pear-shaped as Owen misjudged a through-ball and Makinson ran from 5 metres outside his own goal-line all the way down the other end to put Saints 24-6 up. He secured the extras and the points tally should have been improved upon as St Helens went about turning the screw but Lomax spilled the ball with the try-line gaping.
St Helens strolled to a 44-12 win that served to placate fans before the Play-Off rollercoaster
The lack of noise emanating from the stands was broken by a sudden burst of colossal rain that made for a strange atmosphere as the large drops of rain hammered the roofs and Gary Wheeler went over for his first try on the now-soaking pitch the natural intervention had caused after a neat grubber kick from Lance Hohaia. A couple of minutes later, Adam Swift received Wellens’ own grubber effort to give the Saints a commanding 38-6 lead.
The match was turning into exhibition stuff and followers of the Merseyside club began to serenade the walkover as they moved towards preserving third-place in the standings in impressive fashion. Castleford’s own position in Super League was coming under threat by the London Broncos who were playing at the same time, and earning a surprise victory over title challengers, Warrington Wolves.
Applause rang round the stadium as a monster kick from James Roby saw Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook hunt the unfortunate last Castleford man down behind his posts. Moments later, Lomax arced his way around the Tigers defence for a try that was converted for Wheeler’s third goal with ten minutes left to play. Castleford grabbed themselves a consolation try when Orr’s grubber kick was collected by Steve Snitch who swivelled onto his front to touchdown. Orr added the extras on a rare bright spot in the Tigers’ woeful second-half performance.
The Tigers threatened to bare their teeth towards the end but went home licking their wounds as St Helens strolled to a 44-12 win that served to placate fans before the Play-Off rollercoaster that should provide a more thrilling ride for the serial Grand-Finalists.
Words: Andrew Belt