That’s why they’re champions. St Helens, runaway leaders last season, showed all the characteristics to why the Super League trophy currently resides at Langtree Park, with a ruthless patch of play earning them a 18-32 victory at the KCOM Stadium.
However, despite displaying such qualities Saints were given a massive helping hand from the Black and Whites, who arguably edged the contest until a Jake Connor kick went out on the full. It was the second occurrence too, and this one had a few aftershocks. The pantomime villain, who has to deliver now that he’s got his favoured six shirt, had an afternoon to forget, and whilst it’s tough picking out individual players, that play was a massive momentum swinger and St Helens didn’t need a second invitation.
The champions had around ten minutes of constant possession and turned a slight deficit that they took into half time into a comfortable lead. Game over. Ruthless. But that’s what all the top sides do and continue to do, and make no mistake St Helens are the competitions best. This game can be savage at times and it’s tough on Connor, who wasn’t the only player to make key blunders, but he also frustrated fans further in giving away a tedious penalty with ball in hand after running his mouth again. He’s got to get that childish petulance out of his game, but then again some of that ‘petulance’ also brings out the best out of him. Rough with the smooth and all that. It’s one game and only two points dropped. Obviously not a time and place to get the pitchforks out, but those incidents were costly and can’t become a regular occurrence, Hopefully they won’t. They can’t, otherwise Connor will find himself playing Reserves with Albert Kelly now completing his suspension. Charmed on this occasion, the Snake has a lot of talent but unfortunately one massive and costly mistake got the better of him.
It’s harsh to pin it all on Connor too as Hull conceded twenty-four unanswered points in a quick-fire spell following that error. Some of the defence was soft, particularly from Mahe Fonua who struggled and made some big blunders on his first start of the year, and the ease at which St Helens got down field again was unacceptable. That wasn’t all Connor’s fault, nor Founua’s, and rather than hanging out players to dry you have to applaud the opposition. St Helens turned it on. They went up a gear just like Hull did to Leeds and the noisy neighbours. They played direct and fast with Jonny Lomax again outstanding. Does he know any different? He constantly takes the right options. He’s a brilliant player down that left edge and whilst he was quiet at times, when St Helens got on top he made sure he was the one punishing Hull.
That Saints try scoring purple patch, not to mention the twenty minutes after that, really highlighted the weakened Hull interchange. Saints, who probed and asked some questions but couldn’t get past a firm Hull defence in the first half, smelt blood and when Hull’s starting middles went off they upped their game. That was the issue. They came off near enough together and it left Hull lightweight. A right proverbial kick in the knackers as before then Hull had played out a solid first half. Yep, even in defeat there’s a lot to take from that. The opening forty minutes was a right battle and Hull were in the thick of the action, in fact going in 6-2 up at the break.
Both sides were physical but the Hull opening middles really were sublime, and non better than Gareth Ellis. He’s 38 going on 39 and just continuously bends everyone who’s stupid enough to run in his path. Bang. Bang. Bang. Constantly for forty minutes. The man is incredible. An absolute freak. Scott Taylor was also superb in his first stint, spinning out of numerous tackles, but struggled in his second stint. Hull were beaten by then though and it all goes hand in hand. When on the park together and with an even amount of possession. Sao, Ellis and Tag were sublime and that amongst some terrific scramble defence was a massive reason to why the half time score was in Hull’s favour. It all got a bit tasty and it’s telling the intensity and quality dropped a bit when they went off and Hull were starved of the ball. Amazing what a bit of favourable possession and territory can do and when Saints get that roll on they’re bloody difficult to stop.
A first defeat of the season, the game had a proper old school feel about it on our already second glimpse of Sunday afternoon rugby league this year. Can’t beat it. It was a proper forwards battle early on too. A right war of attrition with some hard graft through the middle. Defences were on top and players had to fight for every inch. Sadly that changed after the break and Hull rolled over – there is just no room for mistakes in Super League these days. Just look elsewhere. Wakefield beating Warrington on the same day despite Gareth Widdop making his debut and Huddersfield winning their opening two games making them the only side with a 100% record. You can never take anything for granted.
Talking mistakes, there were a couple of shockers from Hull as well. Adam Swift made a couple of inroads and for no-one to be within ten yards of him when he played the ball is proper amateur. It happened twice too, but Hull got away with the first one. Things like that are nothing less than concentration lapses. Proper dumb. Again though it’s telling that they came after Saints had drained the energy out of Hull. Rather than lynch the home side it’s easier and more justified to credit the opposition, who also held out in the first half when Hull asked the question. Class tells.
Amongst the middles and as per the norm, Carlos Tuimavave’s performance was on point. He really does glide around that pitch. He makes it look easy too and got himself two deserved tries, one a scramble after a Connor kick that this time was Hull’s beneficiary, and the other a race away after a sublime offload from Fonua, who despite that did struggle when moved to the wing following Ratu Naulago’s withdrawal. The Fijian Flyer struggled to finish the first half thanks to a lower limb injury and didn’t return after the break. That reshuffle proved costly. Saints, who had their own adjustments to make with Regan Grace picking up a knock, hit the right edge and Hull didn’t have any answers.
The key moments just went against Hull and Saints took advantage. Fair play to them. That spell just after half time was rancid and the only thing to shout about besides Tuimavave was Jamie Shaul going over for the games final try after some magic from Sao. The damage though had already been done. Momentum. It’s massive, innit.
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 33. Ratu Naulago, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 24. Mahe Fonua, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Jake Connor, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 13. Ligi Sao, 4. Josh Griffin, 11. Josh Jones, 29. Gareth Ellis. Interchange: 20. Brad Fash, 19. Masimbaashe Matongo, 21. Jordan Lane, 16. Jordan Johnstone.
Hull Tries: Tuimavave 2, Shaul. Goals: Sneyd 3/3
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Gareth Ellis, 2pts Carlos Tuimavave, 1pt Ligi Sao
St Helens Starting XIII: 22. Jack Welsby, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Kevin Naiqama, 21. Matty Costello, 5. Regan Grace, 6. Jonny Lomax, 7. Theo Fages, 8. Alex Walmsley, 20. James Bentley, 10. Luke Thompson, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Dom Peyroux, 14. Morgan Knowles. Interchange: 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 15. Matty Lees, 18. Joseph Paulo, 19. Aaron Smith.
St Helens Tries: Costello, Thompson, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Bentley, Smith. Goals: Makinson 6/7
Scoring System: 0-2, 6-2, 6-6, 6-12, 6-18, 6-24, 12-24, 12-26, 12-32, 18-32
Referee: Liam Moore