Yates’ verdict: Young squad will learn from golden goal defeat

St Helens' James Roby stands dejected at the final whistle during the Betfred Super League Semi-Final match at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle, Castleford
St Helens' James Roby stands dejected at the final whistle during the Betfred Super League Semi-Final match at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle, Castleford

So near yet so far. That in a nutshell sums up Saints’ failure - if that’s the right word to use in the circumstances - following their golden goal exit from the Super League semi-final play-off against Castleford Tigers at the tension-charged Mend-A-Hose Jungle last night (Thursday).

The West Yorkshire side - bidding for a place in their first Old Trafford Grand Final - landed an extra-time one-pointer to claim a 23-22 victory but it was a crying shame that one of two evenly matched sides had to finish second best.

Castleford Tigers' defence holds up St Helens' Alex Walmsley just short during the Betfred Super League Semi-Final match

Castleford Tigers' defence holds up St Helens' Alex Walmsley just short during the Betfred Super League Semi-Final match

Saints didn’t deserve to lose - and neither did the Tigers - but sport is often decided on small margins and this was a case in point.

It had the 11,235-strong crowd on tenterhooks from the moment Cas struck with less than a minute on the clock.

Saints then staged a remarkable fightback with three tries in the latter stages of the regulation 80 minutes to snatch a two point lead, Cas drawing level with a last-gasp penalty from Luke Gale before the half back landed a golden point in extra-time.

The result was bitter pill to swallow for the St Helens fans who had crossed the Pennines but despite another semi-final setback head coach Justin Holbrook was more than pleased by his teams performance, if not the final outcome.

Coach Paul Wellens, Saints last Grand Final-winning captain, offers some words of wisedom to the players

Coach Paul Wellens, Saints last Grand Final-winning captain, offers some words of wisedom to the players

Holbrook said: “I feel horrible. It’s hard to take at the moment after the effort the boys put in.

“Away from home we have kept coming back and it was nearly enough to win it tonight but it’s devastating to lose.

“It was a disappointing end, yet. I couldn’t be prouder of the players even though the result is hurting.”

There were lots of key moments to dwell on, including referee James Child penalising Saints Luke Thompson for a 50th second knock-on when it was a clear case of ball snatching, giving the hosts an early points boost and Mark Percival - normally the surest of goal kickers - missing four of his five conversion attempts.

No one had more sympathy for the St Helens centre than the Tigers ice-cool goal kicker Gale.

He said: “I feel for Mark. He has been outstanding all year and as kickers, you have those games. It’s a shame for him because he is a great player.”

The rugby season is now at an end for Saints - except for those players lucky enough to be part of the forthcoming World Cup - but there is plenty for Holbrook to build on as he looks to the future.

Apart from the likes of skipper Jon Wilkin, Kyle Amor, James Roby and Matty Smith, most of the squad is still learning their trade so to speak and can only get better with experience

I know defeat in a big match is not nice but it is part of a learning curve and maybe the starting point of another trophy-winning period for the club.