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PICTURES: Defensive effort tamed Wolves
JONNY Lomax produced another exemplary display at full back as Saints rattled Warrington after getting off to a whirlwind start.
Initially switched from half back to cover Paul Wellens’ absence with injury, Lomax has shown enough of his attacking and defensive attributes to persuade coach Nathan Brown to move Saints’ long-serving serving skipper.
Those skills were there in abundance – with the 23-year-old Billinger mine-sweeping every tricky grubber and defusing every bomb.
With the ball in hand his thrusts from the back have added something of a new dimension to Saints’ attack.
It was far from a one man show – with Saints’ pack getting well on top of a Wolves side that looked far from a side listed as favourites to win the lot.
Particularly impressive in the forwards was 80-minute man Sia Soliola who gave robust stints both in the middle and on the edge.
With the forwards on top, the dynamic James Roby was able to play on the front foot and he was a constant thorn in Wolves side at dummy half.
One to 17 played their part – with wings Francis Meli and Ade Gardner showing just why they are being preferred to crowd favourite Tommy Makinson at the moment.
Gardner twice read dangerous Wolves attacking plays to come off the flank – and on one occasion he left veteran full back Brett Hodgson suddenly looking less indestructible.
But it was all about the start – and Saints took control with three tries in the first quarter.
It was the perfect platform to help maintain the club’s remarkable record at the Halliwell Jones – and with Saints remaining unbeaten on their travels this year they could be forgiven for asking to play all their games away.
With Lance Hohaia back in the fold at stand-off and Mark Flanagan returning to loose forward after missing last week’s defeat against Leeds, Saints once again started with a different attacking combination.
Hohaia had a good game, too, with his kicking game being the pick of the Saints contingent.
The new formation seemed to work early doors, when after some slick play from Lomax from full back which earned a repeat set Saints piled on the pressure.
And they drew first blood in when Roby and Lomax combined to send Jordan Turner, playing his best game since joining from Hull, steaming over on five minutes.
Saints were on-song, and a ninth minute break from Roby, producing his best display of the season, backed up by Anthony Laffranchi, paved the way for another assault on the line.
And from there Hohaia sold a great dummy to poach a close range try, which Lomax goaled.
Saints added to that lead when Lomax’s floated long ball released Meli, who bustled his way over in a tight spot to make it 14-0, the goal being missed.
It was a remarkable score – the experienced Samoan international has had more than his share of critics – but his use of raw power whilst remaining aware of the touchline millimetres from his left foot to maintain a tremendous strike record was a joy to watch.
Saints withstood some Wolves pressure, only to annoyingly give the hosts an undeserved toe-hold with some loose play with less than two minutes to go to the break.
Instead of seeing out the last set safely, they tossed the ball wide and produced an handling error.
It was a rare blip in an otherwise impeccable performance, but it was immediately punished.
Wolves took full advantage with returning centre Chris Bridge storming over on a diagonal run to touch down.
Hodgson missed the goal, but Wolves had something to cling to coming into the second half and in some ways was similar to what happened in the play-off game at Langtree Park last term.
But Saints’ response was different this time and they withstood the potentially dangerous opening ten minutes of the second half, producing some superb defence, with the eye-catching highlight seeing Lomax swoop on a dangerous grubber to save them.
It was suddenly an arm-wrestle, but Saints did not blink and made the lead two converted tries when Lomax slotted a penalty from 30 metres just past the hour mark.
And Saints more or less made the game safe when Wolves prop Chris Hill lost the ball in the challenge, with the alert Roby snatching the chance to zip in and touch down under the sticks.
Lomax tagged on the extras to make it 22-4 and it was then a case of seeing out the clock.
Wolves did keep it interesting when Bridge crossed for his second, goaled by Hodgson, but only one team can manage three tries in the last eight minutes at the Halliwell Jones.
So Saints maintain their fine form on the road and no wonder the boisterous fans packed behind the goal lapped it up – now it is a case of transferring some of that energy and enthusiasm – both on the pitch and terraces – to Langtree Park.
Warrington: Hodgson; Riley, Bridge, Atkins, J. Monaghan; Ratchford, Myler; Wood, M. Monaghan, Hill, Grix, Westwood, Cooper. Subs: Carvell, Higham, McCarthy, Currie.
St Helens: Lomax; Gardner, Turner, Jones, Meli; Hohaia, Wilkin; Laffranchi, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Flanagan. Subs: Puletua, Clough, Walker, Greenwood.
Ref: R. Silverwood.