St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham was thrilled with the way his side overcome a series of injury blows to keep their unbeaten record intact after four rounds of the Super League season.
The reigning champions lost full-back Jonny Lomax and centre Mark Percival with leg injuries and forward Luke Thompson to concussion, all within the space of six minutes midway through the first half of their match at Wakefield, but battled their way through to a tense 20-16 victory.
“We had a lot of adversity,” Cunningham said. “You can’t really practise what we did out there today.
“You have just got to have faith in your team. Today just shows what they are made of. I had one sub in Lance (Hohaia) and I had to save him up for as long as I could.
“I’m proud of the way they hung in and how worked for each other.
“I’ve been involved as a player in wins through adversity and those are the ones you remember. I spoke to the players at half-time where these two points could take us and where you’d be later in the season when you look back and where you finish. These two points could be the ones that get you there. It’s a massive victory for us.
“My middles were just phenomenal. I thought Alex Walmsley was sensational and Atilea Vea is a superstar in the making.”
Cunningham recalled former captain Paul Wellens for his first match since October’s Grand Final in the absence of suspended stand-off Travis Burns and he put Saints on their way to victory with the opening try.
That was his 199th touchdown in Super League and brought him level with his former Great Britain team-mate Keith Senior in the chart, with only Leeds half-back Danny McGuire ahead of him.
“Wello is a true warrior of the game, one of greatest players to have ever put on a Saints shirt,” Cunningham said. “Let’s not forget he hadn’t played since October but he goes and out there and battles. He’s a great role model for the young players.”
Wellens’ efforts looked to be in vain when Wakefield, virtually unrecognisable from the side that lost 58-16 at Widnes in their previous game, stormed into a 12-6 lead thanks to tries from Reece Lyne and Matty Ashurst, both goaled by Craig Hall.
But Saints managed to regroup and tries from Jordan Turner and Joe Greenwood, plus three goals from Tom Makinson, enabled them to restore their advantage.
Wildcats winger Richard Owen went over for his side’s third try 11 minutes from the end to set up a nerve-jangling finish but Saints hung on in desperate fashion.
Wakefield coach James Webster said: “It was gutsy, certainly a big improvement from last week, but we were dumb.
“We had a chance to win that game a couple of times but we were not good enough to get the job done.”