Yates’ verdict: Saints - the great escapologists

Saints have turned around their season after an indifferent start which saw club legend Keiron Cunningham sacked as head coach
Saints have turned around their season after an indifferent start which saw club legend Keiron Cunningham sacked as head coach

During the summer era Saints have earned a reputation for being one of the great escapologists of Rugby League and yet another Harry Houdini act leaves them just one hurdle from an Old Trafford Grand Final spot next month.

They have shaken off the shackles following an indifferent first half to the season and a trip to Castleford Tigers - runaway winners of the League Leaders’ Shield - on Thursday in the play-off semi-final will hold no fears.

It will be fifth Battle of the Roses between the two clubs in league and cup action this season and the last time they met in early August St Helens stormed to a 26-12 victory.

On that occasion the six-times champions couldn’t call on the services of Aussie full-back Ben Barba as he was serving the final weeks of a 12-match NRL ban for a cocaine-related offence.

But now with 320 minutes playing time under his belt, the former Cronulla Sharks ace will have a crucial role to play to keep alive his hopes of a unique double - victory in Grand Finals at opposite ends of the globe in 12 months.

A place in this year’s semi-finals also looked light years away when Saints were languishing in the bottom half of the table in late May with only seven wins, a draw, and seven defeats from 15 matches.

But the mid-season arrival of Justin Holbrook as the new head coach in place of club legend Keiron Cunningham signalled the revival of their flagging fortunes and while they suffered one or two, ups and downs, in the unpredictable Super 8s, they came through with flying colours and who will dare bet against them winning their seventh Super League title since 1996?