In another classic semi-final, St Helens just had enough to again end Salford’s fairytale as they did in 2019 this time a step away from the Theatre of Dreams.
It was a talking point filled game deserving of being a semi-final. Now the Saints will meet old foes Leeds at Old Trafford for the fifth time hoping to break the Rhinos’ own record for consecutive Super League titles.
Saints come close
As expected it was the Champions who came out of the blocks fast striving to impose their physical dominance on the expansive Devils. Salford defended admirably, especially having lost Andy Ackers to a Head Injury Assessment in the early minutes. That said, Saints came within inches of opening the scoring when a grubber kick from Jonny Lomax was grounded by Joe Batchelor but on the dead ball line.
Saints deliver the goods second time of asking
In a very similar play, helped on by a quick ruck, another Jonny Lomax grubber kick yielded points for the defending Champions. Once again it was Batchelor chasing and this time he got his try despite pressure from Marc Sneyd.
Desperation from Burgess denies quick fire double
It looked like Saints were set for a second try in quick succession when a right side raid saw Konrad Hurrell release Tommy Makinson down the wing. Makinson had Lomax in support and looked set to tee him up until a Joe Burgess ankle tap saw the chance squandered as Makinson dropped the ball.
Brace for Batchelor
Despite that near miss the chances kept coming and Joe Batchelor – just like the man he replaced did last night for Leeds James Bentley – grabbed his second. Again as the Saints played with speed, Lomax pulled the strings down the right feeding Batchelor who, despite juggling the ball a touch, crashed over.
Knowles cops a yellow
Last night’s semi-final had a big card shown. Less of a turning point and more of a case of cementing the result, however when Morgan Knowles received a yellow card, Salford fans were dreaming of it turning the game around. Knowles was binned for twisting Atkin’s arm after a tackle.
Watkins does as Watkins does
And it did. Once again turning back the years with a try reminiscent of a try he scored in a semi-final – albeit a cup semi – against the Saints in 2015, Kallum Watkins hit a strong line off a short ball from Chris Atkin to give the Red Devils hope.
Batchelor denied a hat-trick
St Helens fans will always look back on a try disallowed early in the 2019 Challenge Cup Final which denied them a treble when maybe had the video referee been consulted the try had been given and there was a similar moment today when Batchelor looked as if he’d scored a hat-trick in a carbon copy of his first try though this time Jack Welsby kicked it. But he was adjudged to have knocked on with referee Chris Kendall confident enough in the decision to not need to consult the video referee.
Salford stand up defensively
As in the first half, the second half started with Salford’s backs against the wall but even more so as the Champions heaped consecutive set after set on them. Some how, the Red Devils stood firm defensively.
Salford break away
Slowly but surely after Saints pressure the game began to open up which was always going to play into the hands of Salford if they could stay in touch with the Champions and low and behold it resulted in a vital try when they moved the ball out wide breaking through Joe Burgess who fed Ryan Brierley who for the second week in a row scored under the sticks.
A moment that will last a lifetime from Bennison
St Helens’ injuries have again opened the door on the club’s terrific academy products to have a say on the biggest stage and it was a breakout star of 2022 who came up with a huge moment when Jon Bennison grounded another Jonny Lomax grubber to score.
Salford come close as Saint accept sin bin
A game where grubber kicks have been lethal, it was Salford’s turn and it looked set to lead to a Tim Lafai try until Tommy Makinson pulled him back. No penalty try was awarded and Saints were no doubt happy to receive the yellow and nothing else.
Andy Ackers a big loss
After their first set with the ball Salford went from missing one part of their dynamic spine in the shape of the brilliant Brodie Croft to being without two as in form hooker Andy Ackers was forced off with a head injury. It made a tough task even tougher and Salford will wonder what might have been had he and Croft played.
As if this game needed anymore flavour to it, the contest added a kick of spice to really spark the story into life. There was more than one incident when players crossed paves in a less than friendly way. I suppose that is what it is all about at this stage of the season.
Saints the Manchester City of Super League
It may seem strange to compare the big and brutal Saints to the silky Manchester City in any other way other than their success. However, I feel there are deeper comparisons to be made. City’s success is built on possession and territory constantly making opponents defend and St Helens do the rugby league equivalent pinning teams in their own 30 ensuring that any possession they have is in an attacking position taxing the defence of the opponents. It was always going to take a herculean effort to stop them and Salford very nearly came up with it.
Lomax’s magic boot
In big games tries can be hard to come by which is why having a potent short kicking game is key and we saw that from St Helens today. Not only with the tries scored but also the near misses, this could be key come the Grand Final next week.
Big call goes against Salford
It was a case of what might have been for the Red Devils. They no doubt will wonder about Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers loss, but also a potential penalty try for Tim Lafai. The right call was perhaps made but Salford fans will always wonder.
Hope Sio is okay
Ken Sio is a wonderful player who has again produced a wonderful season. However, this was not the way he would have dreamed it would end as he copped an awful injury at the end of the game receiving applause from all four sides of the ground as he rejected the stretcher in a bid to walk off himself. A real warrior. We hope he’s okay.
St Helens may have been without their most important forward but they didn’t seem to miss him with the Champions typically devastating down the middle with Matty Lees and Agnatius Paasi setting the tempo down the middle. Saints fans will just hope that Lees is okay after limping off.
27 Jon Bennison – 7
2 Tommy Makinson – 7
23 Konrad Hurrell – 8
11 Sione Mata’utia – 7
4 Mark Percival – 7
1 Jack Welsby – 7
6 Jonny Lomax – 9
17 Agnatius Paasi – 8
9 James Roby – 7
10 Matty Lees – 8
12 Joe Batchelor – 9
16 Curtis Sironen – 8
13 Morgan Knowles – 8
14 Joey Lussick – 7
15 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook – 7
19 Jake Wingfield – 7
20 James Bell – 7
Salford Red Devils
1 Ryan Brierley – 8
2 Ken Sio – 7
28 Deon Cross – 7
4 Tim Lafai – 8
5 Joe Burgess – 8
18 Chris Atkin – 7
7 Marc Sneyd – 8
19 Jack Ormondroyd – 7
9 Andy Ackers – N/A
15 King Vuniyayawa – 8
11 Shane Wright – 7
3 Kallum Watkins – 8
13 Elijah Taylor – 7
26 Sam Luckley – 7
27 Amir Bourouh – 7
29 Alex Gerrard – 7
32 Tyler Dupree – 7