Former Great Britain hooker Kieron Cunningham paid tribute to current England number nine James Roby following his man-of-the-match performance in St Helens’ 41-0 play-off win over Castleford.
Roby lost out to Castleford’s rising star Daryl Clark for the hooking spot in the 2014 Dream Team but he showed all his class, scoring two early tries and producing an all-round superb display to help his club move to within 80 minutes of the Grand Final.
“He’s been absolutely outstanding all season but over the last three weeks he’s been making 65 tackles and 200-odd metres a match and there not a nine in the world who can even come near that,” said Cunningham, Saints’ assistant coach.
“I’ve done a lot of work with Robes in the last two years, just trying to round off his game. There is a lot of stuff he does now which he never used to do and he’s definitely in the top three in the world.”
While Roby re-emphasised his England credentials, Cunningham believes national coach Steve McNamara should use Clark as well in the end-of-year Four Nations series.
“I thought Clark had a great season,” Cunningham said. “He’s a super little player. It’s great to see good nines in the game.
“It would be good to have them both in, one to start and one on the bench. They’re both great players. Steve Mac has got a good headache.
“It’s a real big jump up to international level and Daryl has got to use it wisely because he’s our future.”
Saints never looked back after Roby scored twice from dummy-half runs inside the first 25 minutes and they ran away with the game in the second half, with Jordan Turner, Adam Swift, Tom Makinson, Kyle Amor and Mose Masoe adding further tries.
Cunningham traced Friday night’s impressive performance back to last week’s 17-16 defeat at Huddersfield when they battled for most of the game with 12 men following the dismissal of Alex Walmsley.
“It was a good knock-on effect from last week,” Cunningham said. “We toughed it out and the loss felt like a win.
“It put us in a play-off mentality, to understand how to win these big games.”
St Helens now have a week off and will chose their semi-final opponents under the controversial ClubCall system.
Castleford, who missed the chance to pip Saints to top spot, will have another chance to reach the last four in next Thursday’s elimination semi-final but, like Huddersfield after the first qualifying play-off, will need to find a vast improvement if they are get back on course for a maiden Grand Final appearance.
Tigers coach Daryl Powell was critical over the performance of referee James Child but admitted his side’s display was not good enough.
“I thought we worked hard in the first half but conceded a couple of soft tries,” he said.
“We couldn’t get anything from the referee, who I thought was horrendous, although I say that every time I see him referee.
“Saints were just too good for us. We still look like we’re low on energy when it gets really tough and in the second half we lost our composure under a fair bit of pressure.
“It was clearly not good enough and we need a response. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Powell responded to his side’s mini-slump since their Challenge Cup final appearance by axing stand-off Marc Sneyd, one of the better players this season.
“Both him and Liam Finn haven’t been playing well since Wembley,” Powell said. “I needed to freshen it up.
“It was a toss-up to be honest. Neither have been playing well and they’ve both got to get better when they’re playing in tough games.”