SAINTS kept up their pursuit of a top-three finish with a 46-26 win at Castleford Tigers.
Paul Wellens grabbed a brace in a fine performance that also featured big turns from Chris Flannery and Michael Shenton.
Saints could hardly be accused of taking things easy in the build up to next Saturday’s Challenge Cup Semi Final with Wigan Warriors.
With Michael Maguire watching in the stands he saw exactly why Saints are more than in the hunt for the Cup.
Royce Simmons’ men raced to an 18-0 lead in around 12 minutes thanks to James Graham, Michael Shenton and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook – the latter coming when Rangi Chase was off the pitch for holding down.
But on his return he sparked 16 unanswered points before Saints weathered five sets on their own line and went the full length for Paul Wellens to cross.
That fighting spirit continued in the second half when missing Jonny Lomax, Shaun Magennis and Graham with knocks, Kyle Eastmond denied a certain score before Chris Flannery masterminded another for Wellens.
TP added Saints’ sixth of the match then Lee Gaskell capped a good return with his seventh of the season.
Eastmond getting Saints’ eighth and final four pointer.
Saints made two changes from the side that beat Hull KR last weekend – Francis Meli and Sia Soliola missing out with hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
That saw Kyle Eastmond moving into the centres and Chris Flannery starting at second row.
Lee Gaskell returned on the bench after being rested last week.
Without that powerful duo it was important Saints got off to the best possible start – and it was their talisman, James Graham, who did the early damage.
After both sides exchanged kicks, Jonny Lomax’ sidesteps won Saints territorial advantage. Then, on the last tackle, James Roby’s flat pass saw the big man plunge over.
Jamie Foster with the extras.
Castleford were penalised for offside from their own restart and after Foster got Saints into great position, they worked the ball right for Michael Shenton to cross in the corner.
Foster again adding the conversion.
And it got much better as yet another restart was punished with deadly accuracy.
This time, Jon Wilkin found a gaping hole and fed Lomax who just couldn’t find a way through.
But Rangi Chase inexplicably lay all over the youngster, got himself sin-binned and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook strolled under the posts.
Foster three from three.
Whilst Chase was off the pitch Cas conceded 18 points – but once he returned he took Martin Aspinwall’s pass and raced 50 yards to bring his side right back into it.
Dixon converted and seconds later it was game on as Chase’s kick found Dixon in the corner.
And moments later Chase had done it again – firing a fine cut out pass over two teammates into the welcome hands of Nick Youngquest.
Dixon converting off the touchline.
Cas had their tails up and it took some massive defence from Saints to stop them going in behind.
In fact, as the timekeeper warmed up his hooter, Saints had weathered four sets on their line and then had Eastmond and Foster to thank for the defence of a fifth.
They nullified a chip to the corner and then won a repeat set right on Cas’s line.
And they made it pay – a sweeping move coming from the right for Paul Wellens to increase Saints’ lead.
Foster giving Saints a 24-16 half time advantage.
Cas could have scored in the first couple of minutes of the second half, but Kyle Eastmond just did enough on his own line to deny a certain try.
And Saints twisted the screw. Chris Flannery made a wonderful break in centre field, handed off a couple of tacklers and then offloaded to Michael Shenton who had Paul Wellens on his outside.
Foster again perfect with the boot.
Tony Puletua brought up Saints sixth try – and his seventh of the season – with a typically characteristic plunge over.
Saints next try came from Jon Wilkin’s boot – a high ball challenged for in mid-air by TP – and bouncing into the hands of Lee Gaskell.
Foster notching his seventh kick of the match.
Richard Owen went through a massive gap to get Cas on the board and Dean Widders added another consolation – but they sandwiched a Kyle Eastmond try – and proved to be scant consolation for the home support.
Saints will sweat on the fitness of captain James Graham who didn’t return after a back spasm and the results of James Roby’s ‘on report’… but that shouldn’t dampen what was a fine day’s work.
Sadly though, it looks like Magennis season is over with a groin tear.
Tries: Chase, Dixon, Youngquest, Owen, Widders
Goals: Dixon (3 from 4), Arundel (0 from 1)
Tries: Graham, Shenton, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wellens (2), Puletua, Gaskell, Eastmond
Goals: Foster (7 from 8)
REF: Robert Hicks
23. Ryan McGoldrick; 2. Kirk Dixon, 3. Nick Youngquest, 4. Joe Arundel, 5. Richard Owen; 25. Dean Widders, 6. Rangi Chase; 21. Nathan Massey, 16. Adam Milner, 31. Ben Davies, 13. Brett Ferres, 24. Oliver Holmes, 22. Jordan Thompson.
Subs: 9. Ryan Hudson, 17. Willie Isa, 20. Martin Aspinwall, 26. John Davies.
1. Paul Wellens; 28. Thomas Makinson, 3. Michael Shenton, 7. Kyle Eastmond, 22. Jamie Foster; 6. Leon Pryce, 20. Jonny Lomax; 10. James Graham, 9. James Roby, 15. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 13. Chris Flannery, 12. Jon Wilkin, 11. Tony Puletua.
Subs: 14. Scott Moore, 19. Andrew Dixon, 21. Shaun Magennis, 25. Lee Gaskell.