Kristian Woolf hails hat-trick hero Regan Grace as St Helens reach semi-finals
St Helens coach Kristian Woolf hailed the performance of winger Regan Grace after he celebrated his new contract by scoring a hat-trick of tries in St Helens’ 23-18 Challenge Cup victory over Huddersfield.
The Giants threatened to cause an upset when they led 12-10 at half-time and the quarter-final tie was still in the balance until Grace – who this week extended his stay with the Super League champions to the end of 2022 – went over for his third try five minutes from the end.
The prolific Grace, who scored two tries in Saints’ victory over holders Leeds in the last round, now has 10 in seven league and cup matches so far this year and Wolf is confident he will stay with the club beyond his current deal.
He said: “I know Regan is really happy at the club and we’ll back ourselves, even though it’s a one-year deal, to make sure he will certainly stay long term.
“By his standards, he’s been really quiet the last couple of weeks, but tonight when he got the ball in his hands, we just knew he was going to score.
“I thought we saw a really mature performance from him, the way he went out and backed himself.
“When he’s in that frame of mind, you certainly want him in our team. He’s making lots of improvement and there’s plenty of improvement in him.”
Woolf was forced to shuffle his team after losing winger Tom Makinson (foot) and prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (head) to injury early in the game, with hooker James Roby playing much of the game at loose forward.
“I’m really proud of the second-half effort,” Woolf said. “It’s hard to lose a winger in virtually the first carry of the game and then Louie had to go off.
“It meant some blokes had to carry more responsibility and play more minutes and that’s why I’m so proud.
“We had to think and adjust on the run and I thought Robes was outstanding tonight.”
Makinson had missed the previous two games with a foot injury but Woolf says he was fit to resume.
“It looks like he’s hurt his foot again,” he said “There is certainly no question about bringing him back too early. He trained fully for more than a week.
“But certainly there’s a bit of a drama and we will have to have a look at it.”
Saints’ victory takes them a step closer to getting their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2008 but they were pushed all the way by a Huddersfield team who are improving every week after a sluggish start to the season under new coach Ian Watson.
They set up a grandstand finish with winger Darnell McIntosh scoring his second try of the match five minutes from the end only for Grace to have the final say.
“It’s a tough one for us,” Watson said. “I thought we were there but we were just unpicked by a quality team.
“I thought we put ourselves in a strong position at half-time but we needed to show a bit more belief.
“We’ve set some standards and showed we can compete with the top teams. That’s two games against the best team in the competition.
“It’s got to be the minimum standard, it’s got to be like that week in, week out now for us as a team.”