SAINTS showed no mercy as they moved relentlessly into the quarter-final stages of the Carnegie Challenge Cup at the Stobart Stadium on Sunday.
They destroyed Co-op Championship high-fliers Featherstone with a 12-try blitz, recording their biggest victory in terms of points difference in the competition since annihilating old rivals Wigan Warriors 75-0 in 2005.
It was a clinical 80-minute display, in which Saints didn’t once lift their foot off the accelerator, thirsting for tries until the final hooter sounded.
At no stage were they prepared to rest on their laurels and switch off, something they have been guilty of on a number of occasions this season and paid the price.
Head coach Royce Simmons said: “We talked at half-time about concentrating for the full duration of the game, and we did that, scoring excellent tries and also producing a professional and polished performance.
“We also talked about improving our defence, and I was extremely pleased to keep Feathestone to nil, which tells its own story.”
It wasn’t, however, entirely one-way traffic, especially in the opening 25 minutes, when gallant Rovers more than held their own, and were possibly a little unlucky to be trailing 12-0.
But a third try and goal shortly before the interval was the launching pad for a second-half onslaught, in which way below-strength Saints posted 52 unanswered points.
Featherstone, who had only lost one of their previous eight league fixtures, were simply run ragged – the final scoreline once more demonstrating the chasm which exists between Super League clubs and the rest.
There were 10 different try scorers, but the most influential player on the park was not among them. Instead, half-back Jon Wilkin was creator-in-chief with some clever distribution and pin-point accurate kicking to all four corners of the ground, constantly forcing the Rovers’ defence to work overtime.
The visitors, however, had started firmly on the front foot, forcing one or two anxious moments in the Saints’ defence, but the 12-times trophy holders soon regained their composure, and opened the scoring after 11 minutes.
Wilkin delivered a made-to-measure grubber kick, and Francis Meli was on hand to touch down, leaving Jamie Foster to land the first of his 11 goals.
Wilkin failed to hold on to a slick Meli pass with the try-line in his sights, but Saints doubled their advantage in the 25th minute when Warren Thompson, making his debut from the substitutes’ bench, blasted his way over and Foster added the goal.
The hosts’ extra power, pace and poise was now beginning to tell, and five minutes from the break they increased their lead to 18-0, as James Roby and Sia Soliola combined to send Paul Wellens in, and Foster notched his third goal.
James Graham smashed his way over the whitewash early in the second half, and from that point on it was just a question of manning the barricades, and hoping to keep the scoreline at a respectable level, as far as Rovers were concerned.
Saints, however, had other ideas, and continued to pile up the points almost as quickly as the eye could blink – eight more tries coming in the space of 25 blistering minutes of almost non-stop attacking.
Michael Shenton (57 and 75 mins) finished up with a brace, as did substitute Tom Makinson (66 and 68 mins), with Nathan Ashe ( 52 mins), Matty Ashurst (59 mins), Soliola (74 mins) and Tom Amstrong (76 mins) adding their names to the scoresheet.
Foster finished with 11 goals from 12 attempts, but there were post-match suggestions that he could conceivably have landed a full house.
“His kicking in blustery conditions was good, and I think the one he was denied actually went over, too,” said coach Simmons.
Teams – Saints: Wellens, Gardner, Shenton, Meli, Foster, Wilkin, Ashe, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Graham, Ashurst, Soliola, Magennis. Subs: Armstrong, Makinson, Hale, Thompson (all used).
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Powell, Bostock, Smeaton, Hepworth, Hemingway, Finn, Haley, Kaye, Dickens, Grayshon, Spears, Dale. Subs: Welham, Worthington, Divorty, Mvududu (all used).
Referee: James Child.
MAN OF THE MATCH
FRANCIS Meli seems to be relishing his role at left centre, and in every game is building a better understanding with the player who is occupying his number one position, winger Jamie Foster.
The Kiwi was always a threat, scoring Saints’ opening try in the 11th minute, and setting up chances for team-mates around him, as well as looking strong in defence.