Ben Barba produced an inspired three-try display as he helped the St Helens secure their passage to the quarter finals of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup with a 36-18 victory over the Castleford Tigers.
Despite being under the cosh for much of the opening quarter, it was the Saints who took the lead after Barba diffused a bouncing kick on his own goal-line, before offloading well to Regan Grace, who raced the length of the field to score.
Danny Richardson added a penalty from in front of the sticks to extend their lead to eight, before Barba once again scooped up a loose ball on the last and repelled the valiant chase of Jy Hitchcox to score the Saints’ second full-length try, giving the visitors a 12-0 advantage at the interval.
A Paul McShane error from kick off gave St Helens good field position early in the second half and their Australian star man took advantage a few sets later, capitalising on a numerical mismatch on the left before angling back inside and stretching out to touch down with his fingertips.
The Tigers got themselves back into the game as Jake Trueman brilliantly dummied his way past Morgan Knowles to make it 18-6, but Barba once again produced a try assist minutes later, sending Ryan Morgan crashing over to seemingly extinguish any hopes of a comeback.
Nevertheless, Greg Minikin scored in the corner off the back of wonderful hands from Jamie Ellis and Michael Shenton to reduce the gap to 24-12, but Justin Holbrook’s side produced an excellent sucker-punch thanks to Richardson’s magnificent left foot step and dive under the posts, to make it a three try ball game once again.
Ben Barba claimed his hat-trick in spectacular fashion late on, stepping his way past five scrambling Cas defenders and, despite a late Mike McMeeken interception try in the final minute of the game, the visitors managed to secure their passage to the last eight of the competition at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Bounce of the Ball benefits the Saints in opening 40
Castleford might well bemoan their 18-0 defecit after 45 minutes, especially given that they had the majority of field position, ball and attacking endeavour in the first half.
However, the Saints first two tries, both off their own goal-line, gave them the platform to build and throw the ball around a little more, and as the Tigers starting chasing the game to try and get themselves back into things, gaps started to open up for Holbrook’s men.
Without the two full-length tries, the score would’ve only been 2-0 at the break- one wonders whether the game could’ve been different had St Helens not had the rub of the green first half.
Tigers do themselves no harm
Castleford came into the game as underdogs and produced an extremely spirited display, holding their own far more than the 18-point defeat suggests.
Jake Trueman was extremely positive and ran with intent once he came on, Michael Shenton produced two try-saving tackles from his makeshift full-back role and the forward pack more than competed with the Saints.
On reflection, it just wasn’t to be for the Tigers this afternoon.
Man Of The Match- Ben Barba (St Helens)
Aside from Danny Richardson’s individual effort, Super League’s MVP scored or assisted in every one of the Saints’ other five tries.
He has the composure and calmness needed in tight situations close to his goal-line and that will fill his team-mates with immense confidence, allowing them to focus on their own role knowing that their number one is there to mop things up.
It seems that there is no end to what the 28-year old can do. If Barba can produce performances like that in every other round of the cup, it seems inevitable that his side will be there or thereabouts at Wembley come August.
Castleford Tigers 18
Tries: Trueman, Minikin, McMeeken
Goals: Ellis 3
Drop Goals: n/a
St Helens 36
Tries: Grace, Barba 3, Morgan, Richardson,
Goals: Richardson 6
Drop Goals: n/a
Castleford: Shenton; Minikin, Webster, Wardle, Hitchcox; Ellis, McShane; Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Holmes, McMeeken, Foster.
Replacements: Moors, Millington, Cook, Trueman.
St Helens: Barba; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin.
Replacements: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles.
Referee: James Child