‘We know we’ll stand up to the rough stuff’

James Roby and Sia Soliola tackle Wigan dangerman Sean O'Loughlin.
James Roby and Sia Soliola tackle Wigan dangerman Sean O'Loughlin.

The way Saints fronted-up to the physical challenge posed by Wigan was by far the most pleasing aspect of their pivotal derby day win, according to head coach Nathan Brown.

Saints had been accused of lacking fight in both the one-sided defeat to Warrington at the Magic Weekend and in their home reverse against Wigan on Good Friday.

But there was plenty on display this time around - with both sides completing a staggering 300-plus tackles in just 80 minutes.

Brown said: “It was an important game because of both sides’ position in the table and because it’s a local derby. I thought both sides contributed to a great game and both sets of fans contributed to a great atmosphere.

“The scoreboard says we were on top but, to be honest, I don’t think there was a great deal in the game. It was three tries apiece. We were maybe a fraction better but the most pleasing aspect was that we were far better in the physical side of the game than we were the last time we played them.

“We were at least as good as Wigan in the physical side of the game on Friday night. On Good Friday we were never on top and against Warrington we got dominated too.

“The tackle count shows the intensity and quality of the game. You don’t get games like that if one side plays well and the other one doesn’t. If I was a neutral I’d have loved watching it.”

Brown singled out versatile back-rower Mark Flanagan, who has hit a rich vein of form since battling back from his 2013 injury nightmare, for praise.

It was Flanagan’s superb flicked pass which sent free-scoring winger Tommy Makinson over for his first try - a trick he had also put to good use in the win over Castleford a week earlier.

“Flash’s pass was a nice one,” he said.

“He’s playing some terrific footie at the moment and is having a great effect on the team.”

This week, Saints must break their Hull KR hoodoo to be certain of staying top of the league.

Incredibly, Saints haven’t won a Super League game away at Hull KR - who will be unable to pick on-loan Saints winger Ade Gardner in their side - since dishing out a 40-0 thrashing back in 2007.

Since then they have lost five and drawn one - and were knocked out of the Challenge Cup at Hull KR last year too.

Brown said: “It’s always a tough game at Hull KR. I think they’re position in the table is a bit false at the moment too - if they had their forwards and experienced players on the field more often they would be higher up the table.”

Brown, meanwhile, is refusing to get carried away by his team’s position at the top of the First Utility Super League despite watching them pull three points clear.

“It was a wonderful night but this is a long race,” Brown cautioned.

“It’s a tight competition at the moment.

“If you look at the table, you’re two bad performances away from first to fifth. We need to make sure we back this up and have a good month.”

Saints suffered a major blow when influential scrum-half Luke Walsh went off midway through the first half with a pulled muscle in his back.

But Jon Wilkin slotted effortlessly into his role - as he did many times last year - and combined with Lance Hohaia to produce one of the club’s best results under Brown.

“It’s just disappointing because it was a sensational game,” Brown said. “Both sets of fans will have gone away knowing their players gave everything. Everyone scrapped and fought for everything.

“But you just want a fair go and we didn’t get a fair go tonight.”