Yates’ view: Saints’ England stars return for crucial run-in

Tommy Makinson in action for England against New Zealand in Denver
Tommy Makinson in action for England against New Zealand in Denver
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Only an unprecedented slump in form will prevent Saints from finishing in top spot before the RL Super 8s kick-in.

They lead Wigan Warriors by six points, head Castleford Tigers by seven and stand eight clear of Warrington Wolves, as well as boasting a vastly superior for and against column than any of their closest rivals.

It’s a strong position to be in with only five matches remaining in the regular season and back-to-back home fixtures ahead against Wakefield Trinity and Widnes, sixth and 12th in the table respectively.

However, nothing concrete is decided in June and Saints don’t need reminding that 12 months ago Castleford were in a similar position - the dominant force in the competition - and at the time being talked about as red-hot favourites to triumph at Old Trafford.

But the script didn’t follow the expected lines - and the Tigers were thumped 24-6 by perennial winners Leeds Rhinos in the final at Old Trafford. It is a salutary warning to Saints that they will have to guard against going down the same rocky road and that in sport nothing is guaranteed.

St Helens will also be hoping that their four players - Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival, James Roby and Tommy Makinson - returned home unscathed from England’s history-making fixture against New Zealand in Denver on Saturday night and ready for the crucial period ahead.

Half back Lomax did suffer a head knock early on and spent some time on the side lines but returned late on to help savour a comprehensive 36-18 victory in Denver after England had been rocked by an early 12-0 deficit.

But they responded with a six-try broadside in which Makinson’s effort was adjudged to be the best of the bunch. The St Helens flier, who started his England debut on the bench, picked up a pass from Elliott Whitehead following a 75 metre dash by the former Bradford Bulls and Catalans Dragons ace and weaved his way beyond two defenders to score and put the issue beyond doubt.

Makinson tweeted: “Thanks to everyone for their messages. Great end to the week with a great set of lads. Loved it.”

Club colleague Jon Wilkin, a match analyst during BBC TV’s live coverage of the game, said: “England grew into the game and the ball control was excellent. They were relatively flawless and I do not think they made an error in the second half. That gave them all the possession and took all the Kiwis’ strengths away.

“New Zealand looked dangerous at the start of the game when they were fresh, but once England weathered that storm, they were by far the better side. They created chances but, more importantly at international level, they took their chances, too.”

The match which was staged to promote th Rugby League gospel in North America attracted a near 20,000 crowd to the Mile High Stadium in Denver and the general consensus of opinion that it was a worthwhile excerise and a stepping stone to greater things.