A Saints Select side had a valuable work-out ahead of the new season when they locked horn with Newcastle Thunder at Kingston Park Stadium on Sunday in a testimonial fixture held for long-serving Geordie club centre Joe Brown.
The Tynesiders faced a side that included 10 of the Betfred Super League giants’ first team squad, and more than matched them for long periods throughout an even and entertaining match, only to eventually topple to a 16-12 defeat.
In an evenly balanced open9ng half, both sides managed two tries apiece with only a Benn Hardcastle conversion the difference.
Saints were on the board first after four minutes, thanks to a Thunder defensive lapse and the outright pace of Regan Grace.
Looking to force home an advantage created from a strong finish to an attacking set, Thunder attempted to pressure the Saints into grounding for a goal line drop out, but instead opened the door for the winger.
Promoted into the Saints first team ranks after an impressive 2016 with the Under 19s, the Welsh international stepped through a gap before running a full 60m for the day’s opening try, with a desperate pursuit from Thunder’s Lewis Young ending in vain.
With a tricky conversion successfully sunk by Jack Owens from the touchline, it was a short lived lead for the Saints, with a brilliant solo try from home half back Benn Hardcastle squaring the scores just four minutes later.
Two penalties in quick succession allowed the hosts to gain a foothold into the Saints half from which Thunder’s current record point’s scorer gave a delightful show and go to break the line and score under the posts and give himself a simple kick for the extras.
It wasn’t just on the scoreboard where things were equal and for the rest of the half, both sides were able to show nice moments in attack and strong defence to thwart each other’s efforts to take some form of lead.
From a scrum 40 meters from Thunder’s line, Saints made the next impression on the scoreboard as Grace sprinted along the touchline to score, but the missed conversion meant Thunder’s next effort would see them assume the lead.
That score came six minutes from the break, with blockbusting centre Derrell Olpherts summoning all of his power to add his name to the score sheet.
Taking a short ball as Thunder hammered at the Saints line, the Dewsbury-born player twisted himself in a three man tackle to free his ball carrying arm and successful ground the ball.
Hardcastle’s conversion was made with ease from the touchline granting the hosts a well-deserved interval lead.
The impressive showing from Newcastle continued throughout the start of the second half, but failed to yield any further reward, with the Saints showing strength in defence as the hosts lost their composure in attack, frequently giving up possession through risky forced passes while in strong positions.
Saints took full advantage of this to keep the pressure applied and contain the hosts before getting the killer score on 54 minutes.
Taking advantage of two quick penalties, Saints engineered a try for Jake Spedding with neat hands that Owens again successfully converted.
It would prove to be the last score of the game as strong defence and mistakes cancelled out any attacking endeavour shown by the team.
Newcastle Thunder Squad:
Lewis Young, Tyler Craig, Joe Brown, Derrell Olpherts, Peter Fox, Danny Niklas, Benn Hardcastle, Brett Waller, Evan Simons, Liam McAvoy, Harry Aldous, Corbyn Kilday, Jack Aldous, Dan Parker, Sam Luckley, Josh Stoker, Matty Barron, Ali Blair, Zach Clark, Jake Woods, Liam Scott, Kruse Robinson
Thunder Tries: Hardcastle (8) Olpherts (34)
Thunder Goals: Hardcastle (8, 34)
St Helens Select squad:
Ricky Bailey, Dave Ecclestone, Matty Fleming, Calvin Wellington, Regan Grace, Jack Owens, Aaron Smith, Jack Ashworth, Jonah Cunningham, Greg Richards, Chris Pollin, Jake Spedding, Ben Morris, Brad Pinder, Jorge Lewtas, Ben Simms, Sam Royale, Jordan Olmez, John Hutchings,
St Helens tries: Grace (4, 17) Spedding (53)
St Helens goals: Owens (4, 53)
Attendance - 1,069