HAVING emerged from a block of games against the top four with a healthy lead at the summit, there was always the potential for this current chunk of games to present some pitfalls.

But nobody would have predicted Sunday’s 44-12 defeat at sixth-placed Salford.

It was the type of shellacking that was commonplace during the idiosyncrasies of Millward era – champs one week, chumps the next - but not the sort of performance that is excused these days and not one coach Kristian Woolf is going to write off as a bad day at the office.

After being models of consistency – particularly in defence, the manner of the defeat, following on from a similarly out-of-sorts display at Wakefield the week earlier, has triggered a few alarm bells.

Woolf has promised a “good, honest look at themselves” and neither he nor skipper James Roby are using the lengthy casualty list - which grew by two more on Sunday - as mitigation.

Credit to Salford; they played a dashing brand of rugby which repeatedly shredded Saints’ right edge with centre Tim Lafai terrorising Konrad Hurrell and Joe Burgess having the pace to exploit it outside.

St Helens Star:

Once the Red Devils found Saints’ weak seams – the ones that only Wigan have only really picked at this year – they became something of an irresistible force with a momentum that was difficult to arrest.

They were given a leg up, though, by a Saints side that once again started the match in a sloppy fashion. The two early Salford raids from the breakdown of Saints’ attacks on the right were a portent for leaders’ eventual unravelling there.

Saints errors with the ball, and the absence of their usual intensity in defence, invited the Devils to chance their arm and play and boy did they take it.

The dam broke on 12 minutes when Sitaleki Akauola powered over from close range and it was soon double trouble with Joey Lussick’s restart going into touch, courtesy of Ken Sio’s leg over the line catch.

Within seconds Brodie Croft’s ball left sent Burgess racing in at the corner and then three minutes later the same player sped away to send Dan Sarginson over.

The Red Devils were on fire with Ken Sio’s long-range break sending Kallum Watkins over and Burgess’ second making it 26-0 at the break.

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That was Saints’ biggest half time deficit since the Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Catalans in 2017 – and just like that game, there was no way back.

It became a battle to restore pride and standards – and to limit the damage and that held until Greg Burke bustled over on 53 minutes.

Just like last week Jack Welsby – for good or ill – always sought to produce something special and was maybe guilty of trying too hard to generate something.

He did, however break Saints’ duck when after receiving from the scrum, he raced through and dummied right before breaking clear. The cover got across but he was able to reach over and spare Saints the indignity of a nilling.

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But that altered nothing with a sublime passage of play from left to right yielding Watkins’ second with Brodie Croft cashing in off a Lafai break to add another.

Saints’ minds were focused on preventing the 50 in the last 15 minutes – a small win in the grand scheme of things – with Alex Walmsley grabbing a late consolation.

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But to conclude an afternoon to forget Regan Grace pulled up with what looked like a painfully significant lower limb injury to join birthday boy Curtis Sironen on the casualty list.

It never rains…

St Helens Star:

Salford: Cross; Sio, Sarginson, Lafai, Burgess; Croft, Sneyd; Akauola, Ackers, Ormondroyd, Taylor, Watkins, Gerrard. Subs: Atkin, Burke, Luckley, Lannon.

Tries: Akauola (12), Burgess (16, 35), Sarginson (19), Watkins (27, 64), Burke (53).

Goals: Sneyd (5).

Saints: Welsby; Bennison, Hurrell, Davies, Grace; Roby, Lomax; Walmsley, Lussick, Lees, Batchelor, Sironen, Knowles.

Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Wingfield, Bell.

Tries: Welsby (58), Walmsley (77) Goals: Lussick (1), Bennison (1).