St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham hailed his stand-in captain Luke Walsh after leading the side to a resounding 52-12 victory over Hull KR at Langtree Park.
Walsh, who stood in for an injured Jon Wilkin and a rested James Roby, kicked eight goals and combined superbly with half-back partner Travis Burns to carve out a nine-try rout of a faltering Robins side.
“Our halves controlled the game,” Cunningham said. “It was probably Luke Walsh’s best game.
“I knew he building into something nice. He’s his own worst critic but hopefully tonight he will have convinced himself he’s back to his best.
“He was captain tonight and the pleasing thing is he stood up. I thought he led the team wonderfully well. He had that glint in his eye, I knew he would do well.
“Burns was brilliant as well and the thing with key positions is, the longer you can play them together, the better they will get.”
Saints never looked back after racing into a 24-0 lead after 24 minutes as they rounded off the regular First Utility Super League season with a win that takes them to the top of the table, at least until Sunday when Leeds host Catalans Dragons.
“It was the performance we were looking for,” added Cunningham. “That’s two weeks in a row where we’ve had a really good start. For 30 minutes we were untouchable.”
Forward Joe Greenwood maintained his rich promise with a brace of tries while his second row partner Atelea Vea marked his comeback from a four-month injury lay-off with a storming touchdown.
Rovers rallied briefly in the second quarter, with Kieran Dixon and John Boudebza scoring tries, but they faded badly towards the end and a fourth successive defeat confirmed their place in the middle section of the Super 8s.
Coach Chris Chester admitted that signified a failure but he remains confident he can lift his side for their next big test, next Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington.
“It is a failure because we set ourselves a goal to get in the top eight but we’ve a massive game next week,” Chester said.
“There is a lot of fight left in this team and I’m confident we’ll be very good next week.
“We’ve got to stay positive because there is a lot to play for in the season. We know now we’re in the middle eights but the priority is the Challenge Cup semi-final.”
“I thought there were some decent individual performances. Donno (James Donaldson) gave us a big lift when he came on, as did John (Boudebza) and Tilsey (Dane Tilse).
“They’re all disappointed. We went into half-time pretty happy but we started the second half the way we started the first. There were some poor misses from certain individuals.”