Keiron Cunningham says he sensed complacency among his players before their 44-10 defeat by Salford in round two of the First Utility Super League.
Twelve months on from gaining a resounding 52-6 win at the AJ Bell Stadium, Cunningham’s men conceded eight tries as they crashed to a first defeat by the Red Devils for almost 16 years.
We’ll respond next week. The disappointing thing as coach is I thought I had got some consistency into the placeSaints coach Keiron Cunningham
“It was a horrible start to the game, completely and utterly a mentality thing,” Cunningham said. “We just didn’t approach the game with the right mindset.
“You can smell an air of complacency about the place just before the game. I spoke to my staff about it, I was a little bit worried about it but, once they’re ready to cross the line, it’s a little late.
“Rugby league is about energy battles and, if you lose the energy battle, you dig yourself into a hole.
“I don’t want to make any excuses or take any polish off what Salford have done. They responded outstandingly to a loss last week and played the perfect game tonight.”
Saints conceded tries to Greg Johnson, Craig Kopczak and Robert Lui to trail 18-0 after 11 minutes and, although they briefly rallied through Alex Walmsley’s 17th-minute score, their defence cracked twice more before half-time after they had scrum-half Luke Walsh sent to the sin bin for holding down in the tackle.
Cunningham must now pick his team up for next Friday’s clash with Sydney Roosters in the opening game of the 2016 World Club Series.
“We’ve got to regroup and get back to the drawing board,” he said. “We’ll respond next week. The disappointing thing as coach is I thought I had got some consistency into the place.”
Already without England hooker James Roby, who remains a doubt for the Roosters game with a rib injury, Saints may also be without centre Mark Percival after he went off after 65 minutes with a knee injury.
“We’re not sure of the extent of it,” Cunningham said. “We’ve got to get him checked, but I’m sure it won’t be good. It never rains but it pours.”
A dejected Salford owner Marwan Koukash left last year’s game early, tweeting that he had “had enough”, but this time he stayed to the end, jubilantly cheering his side to their memorable victory.
“He deserves it,” said Salford coach Ian Watson. “He’s a passionate bloke and what you see is what you get. Tonight will be a good night for him.”
Watson was especially delighted with the way his side responded to their opening 42-20 defeat at Hull.
“We spoke about getting off to a good start this week because we didn’t start well at Hull at all,” he said.
“The size of the win probably surprised me but we’re a real confident group and it was about putting something right that we did wrong last week. We know if we do those things consistently, we’ll be a good team. Time will tell.”
Star of the show was stand-off Robert Lui, one of eight players on home debut, who scored two of Salford’s eight tries.
“He’s a good player but our middles stood up which allowed Robbie and Michael Dobson to play off the back of that,” Watson added.