The Warrington Wolves-Saints showdown in the penultimate round of the Super 8s at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium didn’t have much riding on the outcome but the way both clubs went at it hammer and tong from the start you could be excused for thinking the Super League crown was at stake on Saturday afternoon.
From the early moments when Warrington veteran Ben Westwood clattered Danny Richardson with a tackle which read ‘welcome to the game, son’ followed by a first-half free-for-all that results in St Helens Mark Percival and Matty Lees and Wolves Ryan Atkins being sent to the sin bin, any thought either team had of treating it as a dead rubber and taking things easy ahead of their semi-final meeting in a couple of weeks time couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some of the shuddering and bone-crunching tackles, particularly in a hostile opening 40 minutes, made one wince.
But it was during the period when they only had 11 players on the park that Saints produced a side of their games which is not always given the credit it deserves.
Initially holding on to a two point lead via a Richardson penalty after four minutes they came under the kind of pressure which would have sunk lesser teams without trace.
The fact that they only conceded one try during a frenzied and non-stop bombardment of their line was due largely to some razor-sharp and last-gasp tackling - none more impressive than JonnyLomax’s hit on 19st man mountain Ben Murdoch-Masila and Regan Grace’s similar effort to stop former Wigan winger Josh Charnley in his tracks when he had the whitewash firmly in his sights.
But once they had weathered the storm - and restored to their full complement of players - Justin Holbrook’s table-toppers established a 12-6 interval lead and then went on to rip the Wire to shreds with some flamboyant football, scoring four more tries in the space of 25 exhilarating minutes.
It was a convincing and comprehensive victory in the end but Holbrook will not be fooled into thinking the forthcoming semi-final between the two clubs will be a cake-walk.
He will be demanding a similar performance from the players under his wings and at the same will be prepared for a sterner test if the Wolves, who lost key half backs, Kevin Brown and Tyrone Roberts to injury part way through the game, have their dynamic duo back and thirsting for revenge.
Warrington - tries: Brown (23) King (65), Goodwin (78)
Goals: Patton (2 /3)
Saints - tries: Douglas (32), Grace (39), Lomax (51), Richardson (53), Barba (58 and 76).
Goals: Richardson (5/7).
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Saints: 23. Ben Barba; 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 19. Regan Grace; 1. Jonny Lomax, 18. Danny Richardson; 20. Matty Lees, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 11. Zeb Taia, 24. James Bentley, 12. Jon Wilkin.
Subs: 6. Theo Fages, 14. Luke Douglas, 17. Dom Peyroux, 21. Jack Ashworth.
Warrington: 1. Stefan Ratchford; 3. Bryson Goodwin, 18. Toby King, 4. Ryan Atkins, 27. Josh Charnley; 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Tyrone Roberts; 8. Chris Hill, 15. Declan Patton, 10. Mike Cooper, 13. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 30. Bodene Thompson, 34. Ben Westwood. Subs: 17. Joe Philbin, 19. George King, 20. Harvey Livett, 22. Morgan Smith.