SAINTS produced a rock-solid defensive effort to restrict the free-scoring league leaders to two scores – a gutsy, committed performance which paved the way for an opening night Super 8s victory.

They soaked up raid after raid from multiple repeat sets to frustrate Castleford, who were sunk at home for the first time this season.

It was not simply tough and committed defence, it was smart, reading the switch plays and gets bodies back to cover them.

In winning Saints left a calling card that, now in third, they are well and truly in the mix for the title – something that seemed unthinkable eight weeks ago.

It seemed a long way on from May, when the Tigers were allowed to play like the Harlem Globetrotters en route to putting 53 points on Saints in the Challenge Cup tie.

It has been quite a transformation.

Although Cas came out aggressively, Saints more than matched them on that score and their pack, ably led by skipper Jon Wilkin, were up to the mark.

Wilkin's performances are often overlooked, but his nuts and bolts workrate, nous and sheer doggedness have been a big factor in the team's revival.

Thursday, however, was a genuine 1-17 operation.

Starting props Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Luke Thompson, plus back rower Zeb Taia, made sure they banged their shoulders in from the off to lay a good platform.

A few spilled balls meant that Saints probably had to do more of the tough stuff in defence than they would have liked, but any fears that this would drain their tanks of juice by the back end of the game did not come into fruition.

Castleford, with Luke Gale pulling the strings, threw plenty at the Saints line – but it held firm leaving the Tigers reliant on a kick wide to Joel Monaghan.

They were always equal to that – and even when Gale or Ben Roberts pulled out a special play, Saints always found a way to scramble.

The sheer willingness to defend the line at all cost came with Ryan Morgan’s first half tackle and when Jonny Lomax stopped Jy Hitchcox in the corner on the hour mark, snuffing out a try opportunity.

Saints looked like they were going to score first when the alert Danny Richardson sped away after Cas had lost the ball in the tackle, but the referee blew straight away instead of letting it run and then going upstairs. It was unusual because later it seemed that every try, even clear-cut ones were referred.

It made no odds, Taia soon strode through to break the deadlock after taking Theo Fages’ pass and motoring past full back Zak Hardaker.

A Percival conversion and a penalty were all they had to show for their work with Kyle Amor maybe harshly having a try chalked off by the video ref for offside.

The remainder of the half revolved around tackling, but that steely determination to keep the line intact was reminiscent of Daniel Anderson’s 2006 formidable Saints – and if they carry on like this they will be at Old Trafford.

Alas a restart kick out on the full invited Cas to spend the best part of the first six minutes of the second half attacking.

Eventually Adam Milner barged over from close range with Gale converting.

But any fears that the pendulum was swinging towards the hosts were dispelled when Morgan Knowles pierced the line, backed up by Thompson who sent Fages scuttling through.

One play later and good quick hands from Matty Smith and Lomax sent James Roby darting in under the sticks for a converted score.

Smith, on for Matty Richardson, who left with a head knock, produced a perfect kick for Jonny Lomax to race on to.

The experienced number seven did enough to show coach Holbrook that he was not simply going to roll over and let Richardson take his shirt.

It is a nice position to be in; players have to play.

Veteran wing Monaghan pulled a try back in the corner to set a few hearts racing but Roby’s second made sure the spoils were coming back with Saints.

Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Monaghan, Minikin, Shenton, Hitchcox; Roberts, Gale; Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, Foster, McMeeken, Massey. Subs: Holmes, Milner, Cook, Patrick.

Saints: Lomax; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Fages, Richardson; McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin. Subs: Smith, Walmsley, Amor, Knowles.