Veteran Paul Wellens once more demonstrated his immense value to St Helens by guiding them to a comprehensive 38-16 win over First Utility Super League top-four rivals Castleford at Langtree Park.
The 34-year-old former Great Britain international, who registered the 1,000th point of his career in Saints’ 30-28 win at Castleford earlier this year, scored two of his side’s seven tries as they completed the double over the Challenge Cup semi-finalists.
Wellens proved a magnificent replacement for injured full-back Jonny Lomax as Saints bounced back from the humiliation of their 42-0 hammering by Catalan Dragons to move back to the top of the standings.
With Lomax ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, St Helens’ full-back spot remains in safe hands and, on this form, Wellens will surely be handed a new contract for 2015.
Despite travelling without leading tryscorer Justin Carney, who was ill, Castleford had high hopes of pulling off their first away win over Saints since 1992 and they battled well throughout a competitive first half.
But they gifted their opponents crucial tries either side of half-time and eventually finished a well-beaten side for the second successive week as they went down to St Helens for the 13th successive time.
Winger Tom Makinson, who has a habit of scoring against the Tigers, got the scoreboard rolling on five minutes by finishing off a break from second rower Mark Flanagan for his 15th try of the campaign.
Castleford then produced their best spell of the game, with winger James Clare denied by an ankle tap from Jordan Turner and hooker Daryl Clark twice going close before losing the ball in the tackle.
The visitors’ enterprising play was rewarded on 21 minutes when a midfield break from substitute Frankie Mariano set up the position for winger Kirk Dixon to score an equalising try, taking Liam Finn’s pass to cross at the corner.
It was all Saints in the second quarter, however, and they seized control of the game thanks largely to the efforts of their inspirational skipper.
Wellens took an inside pass from stand-off Lance Hohaia and wrong-footed full-back Luke Dorn for his first try and then got Turner over out wide.
At 16-4, Castleford were still in touch but a blunder by Clare in the last move of the first half gifted a second try to Wellens and effectively killed off the contest, with Luke Walsh kicking his third conversion to open up an 18-point interval lead.
The Tigers began the second half with Marc Sneyd on the wing after Dixon failed to reappear and they quickly fell further behind.
Man of the match Wellens was turned on his back as he tried to complete his hat-trick and back rower Willie Manu also failed to ground the ball over the line but the incessant pressure told when centre Mark Percival regathered the ball from his own kick after it bounced back off Clark.
Walsh then touched down after hacking forward a loose ball and a storming break from Flanagan set up Percival for his second try and, at 36-4, the visitors began to look a dispirited lot but they rallied in the last 10 minutes to make the scoreline respectable.
Substitute Jamie Ellis broke clear to create a try for Sneyd, who then supplied the final pass for Dorn to touch down.
Sneyd converted both tries but Saints had the final say when Walsh kicked a last-minute penalty.