Tommy Makinson scored two tries as leaders St Helens fended off a spirited comeback to earn victory at Wakefield Trinity.
Saints seized took control of the game when Makinson touched down either side of a brilliant Jonny Lomax try.
Wakefield responded after the break, Pauli Pauli powering over after Kyle Wood scored to make the scoreline read 12-16. But the runaway league leaders stood firm and their clinical attacking nature saw them wrap up a victory that takes them 10 points clear of second-placed Wigan.
Their 22nd victory from 25 league games, however, looked slightly in doubt despite their 16-0 lead at the break. Saints, who have lost to Catalans and Huddersfield in their last two games, defended resolutely in a scoreless but breathless beginning before showing their superiority and making their mobility count.
Man of the Match Makinson threw himself over in the corner after collecting the ball brilliantly. This set the tone. After the dancing feet of Lomax saw a second try for the Merseyside club, Makinson stole possession from Jowitt to score.
Having seen their lead narrowed to four points on the resumption, Theo Fages settled the away supporters’ nerves by crossing for Saints’ fourth try after smart work by Zeb Taia, who impressed throughout the game. Trinity once again tried to hit back when a break from Jacob Miller teed up Bill Tupou to bulldoze over the line; his 12th try of the campaign.
However, the visitors made the victory at the Mobile Rocket Stadium a certainty when Luke Douglas and Regan Grace profited from two fine Danny Richardson kicks to complete the scoring.
St. Helens will see the win as an end to an ill-timed blip, whereas Wakefield will need to follow Saints’ suit and bounce back from two consecutive defeats if they want to have an impressive end to their season.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Saints are back
Just when we thought Saints’ brilliant season may fizzle out, they came up trumps with a tremendous display in both attack and defence. Makinson and Grace kept their side on the front foot for the whole 80 minutes and, despite an average 20 minutes, they showed just why they have run away with the League Leaders’ Shield.
Wakefield’s season is petering out
Wakefield have had an impressive season, but their realistic hopes of challenging the top teams are over. This defeat highlighted the gap to the very top, and although they caused Saints some problems it wasn’t enough. If they strengthen in post-season, though, they could challenge the top four next term.
Man of the Match – Tommy Makinson (St. Helens)
Just when St. Helens needed someone to step up, Makinson did. The England international put in one of his best displays of the season to ensure his side for back to winning ways at a crucial point in the campaign as rivals Wigan would need a flawless Super 8s to have any chance of catching them. With brilliant kicking, handling and passing, it was a flawless performance from the winger.
Tries: Wood, Pauli, Tupou
Goals: Hampshire (2)
Drop Goals: n/a
St. Helens 36
Tries: Makinson (2), Lomax, Fages, Douglas, Grace
Goals: Richardson (6)
Drop Goals: n/a
Wakefield: Jowitt, Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Tupou, Johnstone; Miller, Hampshire; Fifita, Randell, England, Ashurst, Batchelor, Horo
Interchanges: Wood, Pauli, Arona, Huby
St. Helens: Barba, Makinson, Costello, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Douglas, Knowles, Taia, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Interchanges: Fages, Wilkin, Lees, Ashworth
Referee: Liam Moore