Yates’ verdict: Saints back to their best

Jon Wilkin gets his kick away under pressure while (inset) Kyle Amor looks baffled at his sin-binning
Jon Wilkin gets his kick away under pressure while (inset) Kyle Amor looks baffled at his sin-binning
  • Cunningham proud of his troops performance
  • Saints throw off ghost of South Sydney defeat
  • Kyle Amor sin-binning sparks Saints into life

Our Saints writer John Yates watches Keiron Cunningham’s men get back to winning ways.

At the time they were clinging on by their fingernails to a hard-earned 14-8 lead in what had been a free-flowing and evenly-matched contest despite a fair share of handling errors.

But rather than deflate the defending champions the contentious decision to sin-bin the prop forward for a crusher tackle acted like a red rag to a bull to his team-mates who took the game by the horns and in the end ran out worthy winners.

Head coach Keiron Cunningham said: “Strange as it may sound, we were lifted when we lost Kyle and showed the kind of grit and determination needed in the circumstances.

“We became a bit nasty and angry and it was good to see the players respond in that way.”

But almost as important as the two points, which enabled Saints to maintain top spot in the table, was how they reacted to the 39-0 drubbing at the hands of South Sydney Rabbitohs in the World Club Challenge five days earlier.

Kyle Amor was sin-binned against Castleford

Kyle Amor was sin-binned against Castleford

It could have left them mentally and physically drained and devoid of self-confidence but they emerged with flying colours against a Cas team who tested them to the limits of skill and endurance and came closer to upsetting the applecart than the final scoreline suggests.

Cunningham added: “I’m really proud of what we did tonight because it has been quite an emotional week in one way and another.

“Our pride was hurt by the Rabbitohs’ defeat and it was a tough job to try and get the boys back up on a short turn-around.

“We had 20 minutes of a training session yesterday to recover more than anything.

I’m really proud of what we did tonight because it has been quite an emotional week in one way and another. Our pride was hurt by the Rabbitohs’ defeat and it was a tough job to try and get the boys back up on a short turn-around

Saints chief Keiron Cunningham

“It wasn’t the most entertaining game. We were dumb in certain areas and Cas came to play but we hung in and just did enough.”

There was little to chose between the cross-Pennine rivals early on but Saints broke the deadlock after 11 minutes when Jordan Tansey failed to deal with skipper Jon Wilkin’s bomb.

It signalled a spell of almost non-stop pressure in which Amor, Alex Walmsley and Atelea Vea were stopped inches short of the line before Jonny Lomax fizzed a pass out wide for Adam Swift to score in the left-hand corner and Mark Percival land a touchline kick.

Lady Luck, it should be said, didn’t smile on the Tykes as they fought for parity.

Both Tansey and substitute Ryan Boyle pierced the Saints’ defence, only to be pulled up for forward passes, and then two minutes beforethe break found themselves trailing 10-0.

Saints had already been forced into a reshuffle following an injury to tryscorer Swift, moving Mark Percival to the left flank and handing the right centre berth to loose forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook but it didn’t stunt their rhythm - Lomax and Travis Burns combining to send Tommy Makinson over in the right-hand corner.

The Tigers’ plight worsened when they fell 14-0 adrift early in the second-half after a Carney brainstorm gift-wrapped Saints their third try.

After collecting a Burns’ kick deep inside his own half and under no pressure whatsoever, the red-faced winger directed his pass straight to a grateful and disbelieving Josh Jones who looked so shocked at finding the ball in his hands almost fluffed the chance.

It seemed as if it was going to be just one of those days for Daryl Powell’s strugglers but desperate to compensate for his earlier blunder Carney tossed his team a lifeline with two unconverted tries in as many minutes and when Amor found himself ordered to the sin-bin a late twist in the tail couldn’t be ruled out.

It was, however, nipped in the bud as Saints, by now down to 12 men, struck again in the 64th minutes when man of the match Percival produced a clinical finish in the left-hand corner after being set up by James Roby, Lomax and Jones

Percival also kicked the goal to make it 20-8 before Wilkin virtually wrapped up victory with a 73rd minutes drop goal.

Even so, Cas refused to throw in the towel and were rewarded when Tansey touched down two minutes from time and the impressive Luke Gale landed the extras.

Castleford Tigers: Tansey, Solomona, Channing, Shenton, Carney, Finn, Gale, Lynch, Moore, Millington, Holmes, Moors, Massey. Subs: Milner, Cook, Boyle, McMeeken (all used).