SENTIMENTALITY may have persuaded many of my fellow scribes to quite rightly highlight the contribution Paul Wellens - notching his 400th appearance for the club - made to this battle for third place in the Engage Super League table.
The full back scored a crucial try early in the second half as Saints tenaciously clung on to a hard-earned 6-0 interval lead and gave them much-needed breathing space to quell the challenge of opponents who went into Friday’s clash at the Stobart Stadium just one point adrift of their rivals.
But it was fellow skipper James Graham who set an early example of what was needed to help restore self-confidence – if it was required – after the numbing experience of losing the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan Warriors six days earlier.
Still carrying a neck injury, the prop forward took the fight to the opposition almost from the moment the game got under way, driving forward time and again despite playing through the kind of pain barrier which would have resulted in lesser mortals crying wolf and also inspiring his team-mates, particularly the forwards, to lift their game to a similar level.
‘Gutsy’ was how head coach Royce Simmons described Saints’ stimulating performance against a Giants’ outfit who had the benefit of a near two week break from competitive action and on the night still finished decidedly second best.
More importantly it allowed the hosts to establish a three point lead over their closest challengers and with matches against Hull KR (away), Salford City Reds (home) and Harlequins (away) to come before the end of the regular season third spot looks almost nailed on.
Simmons said: “It was a gusty win with our defence outstanding throughout, particularly in the first half.
“It was a very important win and especially satisfying to achieve it on Wello’s 400th appearance for the club.
“Generally, I thought we played very well with Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook also leading from the front in the absence of fellow forward Tony Puletua and capped an excellent display with our third try.
“But what I liked most about it was he didn’t panic when making his break and unlike other players didn’t look to pass the ball.”
Saints certainly won the forward battle for supremacy during the opening exchanges but had to wait until the 26th minute before they finally pierced the tough tackling Tykes’ defence, thanks to a piece of individual flair from stand off Leon Pryce.
Pryce latched on to a pass from fellow half back Lee Gaskell and bamboozled both Danny Kirmond and Larne Patrick before accelerating past Scott Grix to score.
Jamie Foster goaled to give Saints a 6-0 interval advantage before Wellens, who was given a guard of honour by his team-mates to mark his career milestone, grabbed his 186th club try within 90 seconds of the restart.
The full back raced on to a Pryce pass and despite finding several defenders in his path forced his way over the whitewash.
He did, however, have to wait a short time before celebrating as the video referee considered his verdict on whether there had been obstruction in the build up.
Foster landed his second goal but as the intensity grew and the Giants pressed forward in a bid to cut the deficit an over-zealous Eorl Crabtree was placed on report for an alleged use of the elbow on McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
The dazed Londoner then quickly cleared his head and responded to the questionable tackle in the perfect manner, scoring Saints’ third try after 56 minutes.
Jon Wilkin created space for the prop to storm down the middle and leave Grix in his slipstream as he crossed under the posts, leaving Foster a simple third conversion.
But Huddersfield, who had already lost Luke O’Donnell with knee ligament damage, were given a modicum of hope after 63 minutes - snatching their first try following a moment of uncertainty in the Saints’ defence.
Foster appeared to have the situation under control as Danny Brough’s reverse kick seemed to be heading dead behind the in-goal line but Kevin Brown nipped in to palm the ball back and as it ran loose substitute David Fa’alogo pounced and Grix added the goal.
A superb Michael Shenton tackle on Michael Lawrence prevented a possible second Giants’ try and Saints didn’t help their cause when substitute Paul Clough was sent to sin-bin for dissent 12 minutes from time.
But Gaskell eased growing tension among the fans by landing a 73rd minute drop goal to open a crucial 13 point gap between the two sides.
Saints: Wellens; Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Pryce, Gaskell, Graham, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Wilkin, Dixon. Subs: Moore, Clough, Ashurst (used). Wheeler (not used).
Huddersfield Giants: Grix, McGillvary, Horne, Lawrence, Cudjoe, Brown, Brough, Griffin, Robinson, O’Donnell, Kirmond, Gilmour, Faiumu.
Subs: Crabtree, Fa’alogo, Raleigh, Patrick.
Referee: Phil Bentham.
MAN OF THE MATCH
THERE were some battered and bruised players at the end of a what can best be described as a war of attrition and no one put his body on the line more times than James Graham, Saints’ Mr Indestructable.
He was in the thick of the action during his long spells on the park and inspired his colleagues to reach the kind of heights needed to extinguish the challenge of a committed and always difficult to beat Huddersfield side.