St Helens overcame the dismissal of forward Matty Lees to rout Salford 60-10 and pull four points clear at the top of Super League but their victory was overshadowed by a neck injury to Ben Barba.
The Australian full-back scored his first Super League hat-trick, taking him clear at the top of the scoring charts with 15 tries from 13 appearances, but he fell awkwardly in a tackle eight minutes from the end. Barba was seen writhing in agony before medics got to him and, after lengthy treatment on the pitch, he was carried off on a stretcher. With England prop Alex Walmsley already sidelined with a fractured bone in his neck, it promises to be another major blow for the Super League leaders. Barba is a clear favourite for the Man of Steel award after dominating the first half of the regular season and he was again in sparkling form at the AJ Bell Stadium where Saints ran in 11 tries to two. The other blemish for the leaders was the red card shown to Lees by referee Chris Kendall for a high tackle on Salford full-back Niall Evalds three minutes before half-time. Saints were already 28-6 in front by then, however, and scored another six tries against a disappointing Red Devils outfit. Salford drafted in Jake Shorrocks, their loan signing from Wigan, in place of injured stand-off Robert Lui but he ended up playing the second half out of position at full-back after Evalds’ premature departure for concussion. Saints quickly picked up from where they left off against Huddersfield, against whom they scored 66 points, with Barba leading the home defence a merry dance. Winger Tom Makinson took Barba’s cut-out pass and produced an acrobatic finish to score the opening try after only three minutes and turned creator 10 minutes later when he leapt into the air to bring down Richardson’s high kick and sent second rower Dominique Peyroux over to double their score. Barba then grabbed his first try, finishing off a break by winger Regan Grace, before providing a sharp pass for centre Ryan Morgan to touch down. With Richardson kicking his third conversion on the way to a 16-point haul, Saints were scoring at a point a minute but Salford stemmed the onslaught on 27 minutes when loose forward Tyrone McCarthy crashed over for a try from Logan Tomkins’ pass from dummy half and Shorrocks added the goal. The Red Devils were pressing again when Barba demonstrated his opportunism by snaffling Josh Wood’s pass five metres from his own line and sprinting away for his second try. The dismissal of Lees for what appeared to be a swinging arm threatened to throw Saints off their stride but it merely galvanised them and Grace added a sixth try on the stroke of half-time, when they led 32-6. The game went flat at the start of the second half but Saints found another purple patch to remind the crowd of their ability to entertain. That man Barba got Grace over for his second try with another pin-point cut-out pass before a long-range break from deep inside his own half from substitute forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook created the position for Zeb Taia to send centre Mark Percival over for his 13th try of the season. Barba completed his hat-trick on the hour after collecting a kick from Richardson before suffering his injury. Undeterred by the loss of their talismanic playmaker, Saints carried on regardless, adding further tries through substitute Theo Fages and Morgan before centre Kris Welham grabbed a consolation score for Salford.