Yates’ verdict: Like John Wayne, Cunningham’s boys have True Grit

Saints have shown a degree of 'True Grit' to rival John Wayne's most famous role as Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 film
Saints have shown a degree of 'True Grit' to rival John Wayne's most famous role as Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 film

Saints produced their own version of John Wayne’s famous 1969 western movie, True Grit, to topple newly-crowned Challenge Cup winners Hull FC in a tough and uncompromising Super 8s encounter at Langtree Park on Friday.

It wasn’t a place for the faint-hearted as two clubs, with their eyes firmly glued on a Grand Final date in October, slugged it out toe-to-toe for precious points.

Saints coach Keiron Cunningham has instilled a gritty determination in his squad

Saints coach Keiron Cunningham has instilled a gritty determination in his squad

Neither was it pretty to watch at times but Saints, who had lost all three previous meeting against the Airlie Birds this year, were in no mood to finish second best on this occasion and after recovering from an unconvincing start shot their rivals to piece with a three-try burst in the final half hour.

Key to a 31-10 victory, which virtually sealed a top four spot barring a near mathematical miracle, was the astute manner head coach Keiron Cunningham rotated his forwards, particularly props Alex Wamsley, Greg Richards and Kyle Amor

The first half introduction of Amor from the bench could not have been timed better as both sides battled tooth and nail for supremacy.

The big Cumbrian’s marauding runs acted like a shot of adrenalin for his team-mates and slowly but surely Saints, showing strength of body and mind, wrested the initiative from their Humberside rivals.

No one responded better than Amor’s fellow substitute Atelea Vea, scoring two tries in a Super League match for the first time since joining the club at the start of the 2015 campaign.

Cunningham said: “We’ve been trying to get Tills (Vea) to rediscover his mojo. He had been struggling a bit defensively so I tried to help him out by chucking him in the middle.

“He worked exceptionally hard tonight and is budding up with Big Alex (Walmsley). I thought it was his best game for a long period of time.”

The Saints’ boss added: “I have been trying to squeeze his minutes as well week-in and week-out and he is definitely getting an engine for that middle part of the field.”

On paper it appears as though the final score line suggests an easy ride for the hosts but nothing could be further from the truth against a Hull side which rested five Wembley heroes.

Until the latter stages, the destiny of the two points balanced delicately on a knife’s edge and at times Saints had to cling on by their finger-nails to keep their heads above water.

This was never better demonstrated than when winger Adam Swift, helping out what at that juncture was an under-pressure defence, produced a stunning last-ditch tackle to prevent Hull’s Steve Michaels claiming a possible game-changing try.

Saints only led 18-10 at the time and had they conceded a third try it’s anyone guess what would have followed.

But Swift showed true grit, bravery and a fearless attitude to keep the line in tact - and the same could be said of his colleagues on a night when guts and sheer determination triumphed over silky skills.

The winger also demonstrated the other side of his game within minutes of his game-changing tackle - storming almost the length of the field and paving the way for Vea’s second try which more or less put Saints in the comfort zone and on the way to their eighth win in the last nine games.