St Helens’ defence against Warrington Wolves shows why they should make Grand Final

LAST month it was great to see two ‘new’ teams – Leigh Leopards and Hull KR – at Wembley for the Challenge Cup Final.

But whichever way you look at it, I’m afraid we are unlikely to see two new teams in the Super League Grand Final next month.

As things stand, I can only see the players of St Helens and Wigan walking out at the Theatre of Dreams on 14 October.

But, with no disrespect to the other teams who are still in the mix, what a match that would be!

Saints are going for their fifth successive Super League title and on the evidence of Friday night they will take some beating, even if they were not at their absolute best.

When I saw the two team lists, with the absence of George Williams for Warrington and teenager Leon Hayes thrust into the starting lineup for his first game of the season to replace him, I admit that I shuddered and anticipated a one-sided contest, especially given Warrington’s inconsistency this season.

But young Hayes certainly didn’t let his side down and he wasn’t the reason why Warrington couldn’t quite match St Helens. The youngster earned plenty of praise after the game for his performance. Having been thrown in at the deep end, he learned to swim very quickly against the stiffest opposition imaginable.

Warrington’s performance suggests that they are getting near to being back to their best under the interim coaching of club icon Gary Chambers, who was such a great player for the club at the dawn of the Super League era.

What was striking about this game was St Helens’ defence and in particular their determination not to let Warrington pass.

Jack Welsby in particular was outstanding at the back, both in terms of organising the Saints’ defence and making some outstanding tackles himself.

His tackle on Matty Russell towards the end of the first half to save a certain try was out of the top drawer, as was his role in the charge to prevent Matty Ashton scoring in the corner on 54 minutes.

If I were the coach of another club, I would be tempted to show a recording of this match to my team to illustrate how well St Helens communicate in defence and how their determination not to concede makes it so difficult for the attacking team.

Despite this win, however, Saints still lie in third place in the table and if Wigan and Catalans both win on Friday, that is where they will end up, unless they can score a ridiculous number of points against Hull FC, which of course is always possible, given Hull’s recent form.

Warrington will need to beat Huddersfield away on Saturday to ensure they secure sixth place in the table, which, if the results of the other games go to form, will mean that they will visit St Helens in the first game of the play-offs, with Leigh hosting Hull KR in the other game. Bot those clashes, if that’s how it turns out, will be well worth waiting for.

Again, if things run true to form, and the Catalans are successful on Friday night at Salford, the chances are that St Helens, if they win their opening game in the play-offs, would have to travel to Perpignan to face the Dragons in the final game before Old Trafford. That will be another game well worth witnessing.

Warrington’s only try on Friday night was scored by Daryl Clark, whose nine-year tenure at the club is coming to an end prior to his move to St Helens next season to replace the retiring James Roby.

It was interesting to see the Sky pre-game coverage on Friday night when their analyst Jon Wells, who for my money is one of the best features of Sky’s coverage, was convincingly critical of Clark’s defensive awareness near his own line. That will certainly have to change when he heads to Saints next year.

At the end of Friday night’s game, it was good to see that Warrington paid tribute to the players, including Clark, who will be leaving the club this year.

It was a nice moment and the club faces a very interesting future, and hopefully an exciting one, under their incoming coach Sam Burgess.

That is certainly something to anticipate for Warrington fans.