SAINTS came close to catching a cold in near sub zero temperatures at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday before finally melting the hopes of new-look Broncos starting Stobart Super League XVII in style.
No one could dispute the right of last year’s Grand Final runners-up to the two points on offer at the end of a see-saw battle over 80 gripping and absorbing minutes, but coach Royce Simmons will not have been enamoured by the number of unnecessary penalties they gave away and the manner in which they dealt with high kicks directed to the left of their defence – a well documented frailty.
It could have been costly but the re-branded Londoners – still trying to bed-in a host of new close season signings – didn’t quite have the fluency and understanding to capitalise fully on the situation and paid the ultimate penalty.
Simmons said: “There are definitely areas we will have to look at.
“I thought we were too safety-first at times, allowing the Broncos to get numbers in the tackle area and also felt our field kicking game, for once, was not good enough.”
Saints’ goal-kicking, however, was spot-on with hot-shot full back Jamie Foster banging over all his seven conversion attempts to add to a second-half try – his 18 point haul crucial in keeping the Londoners’ at arm’s length.
But it was stand-in skipper James Roby’s all-round influence which turned the tide Saints’ way.
The hooker was in a dominant frame of mind from the start, playing a prominent role in a couple of Saints’ five tries and also wrapping up a hard-earned victory by crossing the whitewash five minutes from time.
Half-backs Jonny Lomax and Lee Gaskell gave him good support, building on their growing understanding of each other’s roles, and with self-assured new boy Lance Hohaia dovetailing perfectly into the full back berth due to the absence of injured Paul Wellens.
Saints always had a little too much class for their rivals.
Defensively, they also dealt efficiently when faced with sustained spells of pressure from an enthusiastic London side desperate to make a big impact on the competition this season, and when they were breached it was more often due to flair and imaginative play by their opponents than indiscipline at the back.
Individual creativity was also at the centre of Saints’ opening try after four minutes, when Roby made an electrifying break from inside his own half before sending the supporting Lomax scampering over the line.
Foster goaled, but five minutes later inventive scrum half Craig Gower’s tantalising cross kick from left to right on the last tackle was snapped up by Aussie team-mate Michael Robertson who plunged over the whitewash.
Stand-off Michael Witt goaled to level the scores, but Saints regained the ascendancy at the halfway stage of the opening 40 minutes – Gaskell setting up second rower Andrew Dixon for a barnstorming 50-metre dash to the line.
Foster landed the goal and four minutes later slotted over a penalty to give Saints a 14-6 advantage, but any thoughts they were about to run away with the game were quickly dispelled when substitute Olsi Krasniqi smashed his way through a sea of bodies to score and Witt added the extras.
Foster slotted over a further Saints’ penalty to establish a four-point gap between the two sides, but just before the interval the Londoners forged ahead for the first time when Gower’s vision in chipping the ball over the defence and regathering led to second rower Chris Bailey blasting his way over with Witt landing the goal.
Emerging for the second half 18-16 adrift, Saints thought they had redressed the balance when Hohaia sold a great dummy and weaved his way over the whitewash, only for referee Rob Hicks to rule it out for a questionable obstruction.
It didn’t, however, take St Helens too long to overcome their frustration and disappointment – and although Gaskell was denied a run to the line by a superb ankle tap – he was able to keep the momentum going before centre Francis Meli fed the supporting Foster, who scored in the left-hand corner and tagged on the goal.
Meli then turned try scorer on the hour mark – Robertson fumbling Gaskell’s grubber kick and presenting the Kiwi with a gift-wrapped try.
Foster again goaled to extend the visitors lead to 28-18, but the Broncos refused to yield and threatened to upset the applecart when cashing-in on Foster’s inability to deal with a towering kick – Witt pouncing on the loose ball before banging over his fourth goal.
But their comeback bid was snuffed out five minutes from time ,and fittingly it was the imperious Roby who put the icing on the cake by darting over from dummy half, leaving Foster the simple task of maintaining his 100 per cent kicking record.
The long-term value of picking up maximum points at the Stoop on the opening weekend of the new season will only be truly gauged when other potential championship contenders have faced the Broncos on their own patch.
By then Rob Powell’s side will smooth over any teething problems caused by ringing so many changes in the close season and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Warrington Wolves, Wigan and Leeds Rhinos cope with the challenge.