Super Saints showed reservoirs of character, mental strength and no shortage of resilience to overcome a tricky test at Castleford Tigers’ intimidating Mend-a-Hose Jungle Stadium at the weekend.
Eight days after defeating Penrith Panthers 13-12 in golden point extra-time 10,555 miles from home to lift the World Club Challenge in Australia, they sent a poignant message to their Betfred Super League rivals that an unprecedented fifth title in succession is well within their scope.
Every team will be hell-bent on claiming Saints’ scalp this season but they seem to have the depth of talent to overcome most obstacles - and remember they were without the hugely influential skipper James Roby, Tommy Makinson, Will Hopoate and Joe Batchelor for the trip to West Yorkshire.
But the lads who stepped out of the shadows - try scorer Tee Ritson, Jon Bennison, Jake Wingfield and Dan Norman - all made positive contributions and demonstrated once more the club’s insatiable appetite to remain top of the tree.
At the same time, it was 32-year-old prop Alex Walmsley who stole the show on his 250th appearance. He returned to the fray with 25 minutes left and grabbed two crucial touchdowns to extinguish the Tigers’ threat to overturn a 6-0 half- time deficit.
Castleford, it should be said, had their opportunities to peg back the champions but their execution left a great deal to be desired. Neither did St Helens’ ball retention reach its normal high level but finishing-wise they were far more clinical than the hosts and that was reflected in the 24-6 final score line.
Paul Wellens, in charge of his first league match as a head coach, said: "I was really proud of the guys because they showed a real toughness and resilience and that was the hardest thing to do on the back of our victory over Penrith. I know a lot of people in our sport won’t see this win in the same way as the Panthers game but to me it is every bit as impressive.
"To come here and be able to get the job done was imposing."
He said: "You wrestle with what to do in terms of how you approach the situation. It’s unknown for everybody, particularly after travelling back from Australia and still suffering from sore and bruised bodies.
"I was keen for us to put down a marker and approach the 2023 season with a strong mindset. I sat down with the players and they made it quite clear they were in the same thought process as me so we picked the strongest team possible.
"We knew the performance wouldn’t be perfect .We’ll just have to keep a close eye on the next few weeks but what this group does is find a way when things get tough."
Walmsley said: "There would have been no excuses if we had not turned up today. We spoke about what we demand in terms of our standards and I thought we delivered on those. The one thing about this group is we always look forward . We are going to put the victory over Penrith to bed and focus on retaining the title at Old Trafford later in the year."
Teams - Castleford: Evalds, Mamo, Turner, Broadbent, Faraimo; Widdop, Miller; Griffin, McShane, Vete, Edwards, Mellor, Lawler.
Interchanges: Milner, Mustapha, Robb, Watts.
St Helens: Welsby; Ritson, Hurrell, Percival, Bennison; Lomax, Dodd; Walmsley, Lussick, Lees, Mata’utia, Bell, Knowles.
Interchanges: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wingfield, Norman, Royle.
Castleford tries: Brodbent 50 mins). Goals: Widdop (50 mins).
St Helens tries: Welsby (24 mins), Ritson (47 mins), Walmsley ( 61 and 71 mins).
Goals: Percival (24 mins, 47 mins and 61 mins), Lomax (71 mins).
Referee: Liam Moore.