SAINTS put their shirt-sleeved fans through a mixed bag of emotions before completing a Super League double over the Bradford Bulls at sun-kissed Langtree Park on Sunday afternoon.
At times, particularly in the first half, some of their flair and sure-fire handling in attack was awe-inspiring and an 18-6 interval lead didn’t do them any kind of real justice - the back-pedalling Bulls should have been dead and buried by that stage.
But like a dog with a bone, the Tykes refused to let go, almost pulling the rug from under the hosts’ feet after coming close on a number of occasions to wiping out 12 and 18 point deficits and it was only when the stadium clock ticked beyond 75th minute that a first home victory since Castleford Tigers were demolished 48-18 on April Fools’ Day was assured.
But at the end of an highly entertaining encounter, which was played in demanding and energy-sapping conditions, Saints’ boss Nathan
Brown will have derived more satisfaction from the result than his counterpart, Francis Cummins.
The return of quicksilver Jonny Lomax following an 11-match absence due to injury was major bonus. It allowed him to team-up once more with hooker James Roby, playing only his second comeback game after a long spell on the sidelines, and on-loan stand off Gareth O’Brien.
All three provided the kind of pace and inventivness which Saint have sadly lacked since being struck by an early season injury jinx and with
Brown not far short of having a fully fit squad now at his disposal a top five spot is not beyond the realms of possibility, even though tough-looking home fixtures against Wigan Warriors and and Warrington Wolves and testing trips to Catalan Dragons and Hull FC lie ahead.
The forwards, too, responded to the platform laid by their more creative team-mates and it is no co-incidence that Willie Manu, Sia Soliola and Jon Wilkin featured among the scorers.
Saints other two tries came winger Tom Makinson - now vying for a regular first team spot with Ade Gardner - and ever-dependable centre Josh Jones.
It was Makinson who set the tone of a Saints’ dominated first half, and although denied a spectacular seventh minute try in the right-hand corner by a last-gasp Michael Platt tackle, it gave the hosts much-needed impetus and they grabbed the lead a few minutes later.
Roby engineered an opening from a tap penalty which allowed Manu to smash his way over the whitewash and O’Brien to land the goal.
Saints doubled their lead after 18 minutes of almost non-stop pressure when Jordan Turner, enjoying a rich vein of form at this moment in time, sent Makinson scurrying over and O’Brien tagged on the extras.
Bradford’s attacking threat had been almost non-existent at this point but they showed their resilience by cutting the deficit to 12-6 on the half hour mark - Brett Kearney taking substitute Adam Sidlow’s flick pass in his stride to score and Luke Gale slotting over the goal.
It didn’t, however, take Saints long to restore their 12 point advantage as Roby, growing in stature the long the contest went on, combed with Wilkin to carve out a 36th minute try for Soliola.
O’Brien goaled and when he added the extras to Jones’ near length of the field try early in the second half, the writing seemed on the wall for a beleagered Bulls’ outfit.
But suddenly they found a new lease of life and stunned Saints with two further tries, both of which Gale goaled. Matt Blythe latched on to Kearney’s slick off-load to score and then Elliot Kear cashed-in on Gale’s towering kick to send alarm bells ringing around Langtree Park.
But Saints’ nerves were eased nine minutes from time when Roby, who had just returned from a short breather on the substitutes’ bench, set up Wilkin for only his second try of the campaign and leaving O’Brien to maintain an unblemished kicking record.
Teams - Saints: Wellens, Makinson, Turner, Jones, Meli, Lomax, O’Brien, Puletua, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Wilkin.
Subs: Walmsley, Hand, Clough, Howarth (all used).
Bradford Bulls: Kearney, Kear, Blythe, Lulia, Platt, Addy, Gale, Scruton, L’Estrange, Langley, Batman, Olbison, Donaldson.
Subs: Diskin, Evans, Roberts, Sidlow (all used).
Referee: Thierry Alibert.