Danny Richardson claimed a personal tally of 14 points and Ben Barba bagged two tries as St Helens laid down a marker for their Betfred Super League semi-final against Warrington with a comfortable 34-14 victory at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Scrum-half Richardson registered a try and five goals in the win to add to full-back Barba’s brace, with Saints’ other tries scored by Luke Douglas, Regan Grace and Jonny Lomax, while Warrington’s points came from tries by Kevin Brown, Bryson Goodwin and Toby King and one conversion from Dec Patton.
The opening 40 minutes were a tasty appetiser for the much bigger showdown to come when the two teams go head to head again on Thursday week at the Totally Wicked Stadium when a Grand Final spot at Old Trafford on October 13 will be the huge prize on offer for the winners.
Despite nothing to play for with the top four positions all sorted, there was no love lost between the two sides with three players – Matty Lees and Mark Percival from St Helens and Warrington’s Ryan Atkins – all spending time in the sin-bin after a first-half, all-in brawl.
An early Richardson penalty for the visitors saw the young scrum-half take his scoring run to 32 consecutive games before the game exploded into life when Lees’ challenge on Roberts sparked the brawl, with Roberts forced from the action and unable to return after failing a head test.
After tempers had calmed, Lees was given 10 minutes in the sin-bin, as was team-mate Percival and Warrington’s Atkins for their part in the flare-up, and the respective captains Chris Hill and Jon Wilkin were also given a warning by referee Chris Kendall.
The home side made their extra man tell to claim the opening try when Brown scythed through a huge gap in the Saints’ defence to score and Patton converted to give the home side a 6-2 lead.
But Saints roared back and claimed two tries in the final eight minutes of the half as first prop Douglas managed to twist his way out of three tackles close to the line to touch down.
Then, in the final minute of the half, a superb 40-metre midfield break by Jack Ashworth set up the position from which quick hands out to the left allowed Grace to touch down in the corner and, with Richardson adding a further conversion, the visitors led 12-6 at half-time.
A 60-metre break by Richardson, who was only denied by a last-gasp, try-saving tackle by Josh Charnley in the opening minute of the second half, set the tone for the second 40 minutes as the league leaders turned on the style.
They claimed three tries in a devastating seven-minute spell to put the game to bed as Lomax, Richardson and Barba all crossed, and two further conversions by Richardson helped open up a commanding 28-6 lead.
King scored a 64th-minute try to spark some life back into the Wolves before Barba claimed his second of the game and Goodwin notched a last-minute consolation for the home side.