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Yates’ verdict: Consistency rewarded with League Leaders’ Shield

St Helens celebrate winning the Betfred Super League League Leaders Shield
St Helens celebrate winning the Betfred Super League League Leaders Shield
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Saints claimed their sixth League Leaders’ Shield triumph of the summer era on Friday and significantly completed the job with a squad of mainly young guns.

The average age of the 17 players, who toppled Hull FC at the Totally Wicked Stadium, was marginally over 24 and included 21 year old debutant James Bentley and the babe of them all 17-year-old Jack Welsby.

Coach Justin Holbrook certainly rang the changes - something he has been reluctant to do for most of the season - and the trophy-clinching performance demonstrated the confidence he had placed in his fledglings to deliver the goods.

Injured skipper James Roby, who picked up the coveted trophy from Super League chief executive Robert Elstone, said: “The League Leaders’ Shield is the hardest prize to win in our sport and while I wasn’t fit to play, I was delighted by the way we played considering how many youngsters we had on view.”

He added: “Naturally the main focus is on wining the Old Trafford Grand Final but having our first piece of silverware in the bag will give everyone at the club a lift as we approach the back end of the season.

“It will also have given our loyal fans a night to remember.”

Like Saints, Hull were forced to make wholesale changes due to an unprecedented run of injuries - and in the circumstances continuity was difficult to maintain by both teams throughout the 80 minutes.

There was no shortage of uncharacteristic handling errors but what cannot be overlooked is the sheer quality of four of Saints’ six tries.

Pick of the bunch came from jack-in-a-box winger Regan Grace as Saints built on their 18-12 interval lead.

The Welsh winger exchanged Harlem Globetrotters’-style passes with Ben Barba before burrowing over in the left-hand corner and then scorched 60 metres to take his try tally for the season to 17 from 30 appearances.

Centre Mark Percival also notched his 23rd and 24th tries of the campaign - striking either side of half-time and showing electrifying pace on both occasions.

Saints coach Holbrook said: “The entire season is built on the end of the year and the Grand Final but credit must go to the boys for being recognised as the most consistent team over 30 rounds of the competition

“I thought it was a good performance with such a relatively inexperienced side. We were forced into making changes but every club goes through that.

’We had every player eligible out there and I was proud to see the young boys do so well, particularly Bentley who played the full 80 minutes on his senior debut which was fantastic.”

MATCH FACTS

Saints tries: Percival (10 mins and 42), Knowles (13), Thompson (39),

Grace (60 and 72)

Goals: Richardson (7/7).

Hull FC tries: Lane (22), Fash (36).

Goals: Faraimo (1/1), Connor (1/1).

Penalties: Saints: 5, Hull FC: 9.

Half-time 18-12.

Full-time 38-12.

Referee: Chris Kendall.

Attendance: 9,348.

Teams - Saints: 23. Ben Barba; 2. Tommy Makinson, 30. Matty Costello, 4. Mark Percival, 19. Regan Grace; 1. Jonny Lomax, 18. Danny Richardson; 10. Kyle Amor, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 24. James Bentley, 21. Jack Ashworth, 12. Jon Wilkin. Subs: 14. Luke Douglas, 20. Matty Lees, 22. Jake Spedding, 31. Jack Welsby.

Hull FC: 28. Hakim Miloudi; 2. Bureta Faraimo, 30. Cameron Scott, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Fetuli Talanoa; 35. Liam Harris, 14. Jake Connor; 29. Masimbaashe Matongo, 17. Danny Washbrook, 8. Scott Taylor, 11. Dean Hadley, 26. Jordan Lane, 21. Sika Manu. Subs: 16. Jordan Abdul, 20. Brad Fash, 22. Jez Litten, 36. Lewis Bienek.