With the Challenge Cup final a fortnight away this felt like a night which would tell us more about Warrington’s Wembley prospects as opposed to those of St Helens. One win from eight Super League games is by no means ideal form heading into rugby league’s showpiece event, but for the Wolves’ here there were positives to take away.
Warrington had to navigate the final quarter of a gruelling encounter here with just one fit interchange. Already without a host of frontline players – in part because of a number of injuries in the high-tempered defeat against Catalans last Saturday – even the most optimistic Warrington supporter would have been fearful of a heavy defeat by the hour.
Yet the manner in which the Wolves navigated the majority of this contest underlines that if the likes of Blake Austin do win their individual battles to be fit for the final, they have a chance at Wembley. But they will face a side who are a joy to watch. St Helens had injury absentees themselves here, but their young players also deserve credit for the manner in which they extended their insurmountable lead at the top.
Two of them combined for the try to end Warrington’s resilience, as Jack Welsby’s inch-perfect pass sent the young centre Matty Costello over the line. That made it 24-12 in the Saints’ favour with 15 minutes remaining – but how the league leaders had been in a battle before that. They led by two at half?time after tries by Kevin Naiqama and Jonny Lomax, which were converted by Danny Richardson, made it 12-10, after Warrington tries from Jake Mamo and Josh Thewlis.
A wonderful break from Kyle Amor then set Joseph Paulo free to extend the Saints’ advantage after the interval, and while a penalty from Ratchford reduced the deficit to a single score the league leaders began to take control as injuries hit the Wolves in the final half-hour, with Ben Currie, Danny Walker and Luis Johnson all coming off.
The crucial moment was when Welsby and Costello combined to open up a two-score lead but the final word went to the England winger Tommy Makinson. His one?handed finish put the seal on another impressive night for the Saints, but we are set for a thriller in the rematch at Wembley.
Warrington: Ratchford; Thewlis, Goodwin, Burrell, Mamo; Dean, Smith; Hill, Walker, Akauola, Currie, Livett, Westwood. Interchange Murdoch-Masila, Tasi, Johnson, Davis.
Tries Mamo, Thewlis. Goals Ratchford 2.
St Helens: Welsby; Makinson, Costello, Percival, Lomax; Richardson; Lees, Smith, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Interchange Paulo, Ashworth, Amor, Bentley.
Tries Naiqama, Lomax, Amor, Costello, Makinson. Goals Richardson 5.
Referee B Thaler.