SAINTS put in their most complete performance of the season as they beat Warrington Wolves 22-10 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
For a side that had been called “the worst Saints team since Super League began” in the build-up to the match they were excellent in both defence and attack to reignite their title ambitions.
Fact is though, no one within the club ever doubted them.
Three tries in the opening 22 minutes gave the visitors a commanding lead – and one they never looked back on.
Nathan Brown’s side were clinical when given the chance and punished the home side through Jordan Turner, Lance Hohaia and Francis Meli in that opening spell.
But Warrington sneaked in at the death through Chris Bridge.
In the second half a real battle was emerging until a Jonny Lomax penalty took it to 16-4 after 60 minutes and broke the home side’s resolve.
James Roby then profited from a big tackle to increase the advantage before Chris Bridge tallied his second as Warrington threw all they could at Saints’ line.
Brown shuffled his line up to take Mark Percival out of the firing line after impressing last week and recalled centre Josh Jones.
Lance Hohaia returned at 6 – his natural position according to the head coach – to partner Jon Wilkin for his third consecutive game at 7.
Elsewhere, Anthony Walker made his third appearance in a row alongside young Joe Greenwood on the bench.
After both sides had completed solid looking opening drives Saints fired themselves into an unexpected early lead.
Francis Meli made a half break down the left hand side and won a repeat set.
Warrington couldn’t defend the resultant drive and when James Roby combined with Jonny Lomax, Jordan Turner crossed.
Lomax missed the tricky conversion but in the ninth minute Saints increased the lead further.
A break from Roby and Anthony Laffranchi gave them territory and six extra tackles and once they got within a few yards, Hohaia showed the ball to the defence, stepped and flew under the posts.
Lomax converting to make it 10-0.
Saints immediately had to defend their lines as Jon Wilkin’s clearing kick was charged down – and then had to do the same after an almost identical moment on their next set.
This time Ade Gardner put in a beast of a hit on Brett Hodgson to dislodge the ball.
And it was that defence that put Saints in great field position once again. Sia Soliola put in a massive tackle and on the resultant set Francis Meli squeezed over in the corner.
But with 15 minutes to go Warrington almost hit back. Back to back penalties got them in within metres but Soliola was too good for them once again and the ball was lost.
Saints could have increased the lead as the half entered its final stages but Gardner was pulled back for pushing.
Warrington then made a complete mess of a chance right on Saints line after Meli lost a high ball.
On their next chance though they didn’t disappoint – Chris Bridge running the angle and getting Warrington right back in it.
Saints 14-4 up at half time.
Warrington got on the front foot in the second half as Saints failed to deal with another high bomb.
The home side then forced a drop out – but Saints were more than up to the defensive test.
In tandem with Roby and Hohaia, Wilkin was driving Warrington back with some excellent bombs and ‘kick chase’ – and that was causing the Wolves to panic and not clear their lines with their usual aplomb.
Joe Greenwood was held up inches short in the 61st minute and then one of those Wilkin kicks forced a drop out.
Saints couldn’t profit but pinned the home side on their line once again.
Lomax whacked over a penalty from in front of the posts after a Paul Wood high tackle to take it to 16-4.
With 15 to go a penalty gave Warrington possession in Saints territory and a repeat set heaped on the pressure even more.
Saints held firm and once again pinned the Wolves back in their 20.
Then came the killer score. Warrington lost the ball in the tackle, it came loose to James Roby and he flew in from 30 yards to kill off the home side’s hopes.
Chis Bridge scored his second after Saints defended back to back to back sets – but it flattered the Wolves who were second to their opponents in every department.
Tries: Bridge (2)
Goals: Hodgson (1 from 2)
Tries: Turner, Hohaia, Meli, Roby
Goals: Lomax (3 from 5)
REF: Richard Silverwood
1. Brett Hodgson; 2. Chris Riley, 3. Chris Bridge, 4. Ryan Atkins, 5. Joel Monaghan; 19. Stefan Ratchford, 7. Richie Myler; 16. Paul Wood, 9. Michael Monaghan, 18. Chris Hill, 15. Simon Grix, 12. Ben Westwood, 17. Mike Cooper.
Subs: 10. Garreth Carvell, 14. Micky Higham, 21. Tyrone McCarthy, 24. Ben Currie.
7. Jonny Lomax; 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Jordan Turner, 19. Josh Jones, 5. Francis Meli; 6. Lance Hohaia, 12. Jon Wilkin; 14. Anthony Laffranchi,9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 4. Sia Soliola, 13. Willie Manu, 15. Mark Flanagan.
Subs: 11. Tony Puletua, 16. Paul Clough, 24. Joe Greenwood, 27. Anthony Walker.