Yates’ verdict: Winning all that matters

St Helens' Atelea Vea powers through the Hull KR defence
St Helens' Atelea Vea powers through the Hull KR defence

It wasn’t pretty to watch at times but Saints and their red army of fans won’t care two hoots.

Win ugly, or win in style, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is picking up a couple of valuable points.

The trouble is that the purists expect St Helens - wrongly in my opinion - to constantly maintain the kind of standards of their highly successful predecessors and switch on the tap at the drop of a hat.

That is impossible as they discovered during Friday night’s hard-earned 31-22 victory at Hull KR - their first victory at Craven Park since a Challenge Cup triumph in June 2008.

But despite a far from flawless performance - and a first half best forgotten - they dug deep into their resources and in the end grit and determination and the tactical nous of Keiron Cunningham turned the tide as Saints erased a 16-10 interval deficit.

The head coach’s early second-half decision to toss James Roby into the fray after a two-match absence proved vital and playing alongside the likes of powerhouse forwards Alex Walmsley and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, he helped turn the tide.

It was evident that by this time Rovers, who had lost play maker Albert Kelly to a dead leg at the break, were running out of steam and more importantly inventiveness and Saints took maximum advantage by plunging in a deep dagger of destruction.

Cunningham is realistic enough to know that the 5-1 third favourites to win the Grand Final will still have to move up a gear or two as the season progresses if they are eventually to reach Old Trafford.

Apart from Roby’s timely return, he will be more than delighted seeing Shannon McDonnell pull on a Saints’ shirt for the first time since last June.

The full back, who snapped his Achilles tendon against Castleford Tigers, produced a sparkling performance, both defensively and

in attack, scoring the first of Saints’ five-try haul. and it hardly seemed as if he had been out of action almost eight months.

And with the versatile Jonny Lomax not too far from a recall after a long spell on the sidelines, Cunningham will have plenty of options if, fingers crossed, he doesn’t pick up any more injuries.