Cunningham hails skipper after Leeds win

Jon Wilkin
Jon Wilkin
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Keiron Cunningham hailed captain Jon Wilkin after Saints’ 32-18 win over Leeds last week.

St Helens were boosted by the return from a broken thumb of skipper Wilkin, who scored the last of their five tries to clinch a first win in four attempts against the Rhinos in 2015.

“You saw the leadership that Jon gives the team and I thought Luke Walsh was phenomenal and Alex Walmsley just gets better every week,” coach Keiron Cunningham said.

“We were really determined tonight, I could see it on the faces of the players in midweek.

“A few people like to kick you when you’re down but we’re together and we quite like the idea that everyone had written us off.

“It’s not the best we’ve been with the ball - we need a lot of improvement in our attack - but defensively I was really happy with the intent from minute one.

“I’m pleased for the team. We’ve been in a bit of a dark place over the last four weeks but the break definitely did us good and I’d like to think we can move on.”

Cunningham’s decision to leave out prop Mose Masoe meant the Samoa international lost a 59-match ever-present record going back to his Super League debut 18 months ago, but the coach expects him back for the trip to Castleford next Thursday.

“Mose has been carrying a bit of a leg injury which has hindered his training for a few weeks,” Cunningham said. “He needs freshening up, I want him to have a real good finish to the season.”

Leeds coach Brian McDermott admitted his side’s Challenge Cup triumph took its toll as the Super League leaders suffered a first defeat in the Super 8s.

Reigning champions St Helens seized their opportunity for the second year in a row by bringing the Wembley winners down to earth at Headingley to boost their semi-final hopes.

So clinical and ruthless in their 50-0 rout of Hull KR, the Rhinos were full of errors against Saints and McDermott conceded there was a hint of a Wembley hangover.

“There is a bit in that, I wouldn’t put it all down to that,” McDermott said. “I thought Saints played very direct and aggressive.

“There was too much dropped ball near their try-line and, as the game started to bite, too many fellas dropped off tackles.”

McDermott drafted in rookies Ash Golding and Jordan Lilley on their 19th birthdays, as well as Wembley reserve Jimmy Keinhorst, in place of injured internationals Zak Hardaker, Kallum Watkins and Rob Burrow but declined to use the absentees as an excuse.

“I thought the team we had out there was good enough,” he said. “We looked decent for spells in the game.

“Defensively I thought we were solid for the most part, but as we got tired, which we thought we would, we started to drop off.”