James Roby of St Helens during a Betfred Super League match. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
There’s nothing worse in the sporting world than to be left with egg all over your face after losing a match you were expected to win at a canter.
Betfred Super League leaders St Helens suffered this chastening experience against bottom of the table Toulouse Olympique at the Stade Ernest-Wallon on Saturday night.
It may have been a culture shock to Kristian Woolf’s boys, who had travelled to the south of France boasting a 100% record while their rivals were still searching for that elusive first victory of the campaign.
In past years, a clash between top versus bottom was more often than not a no contest but the levelling-up between all clubs in the competition is now apparent, backed up by the fact that every team has lost one or more fixtures already - and the 2022 season is still in its infancy !
Neither did skipper James Roby try to blame the shock setback on the near two-hour flight to the south of France, even though Saints had lost to the Catalans Dragons at the Stade Gilbert-Brutus in May 2021.
The 36-year-old hooker, who is only two matches short of 500 appearances for his hometown club, insisted he would not blame the the rare defeat on travel weariness and as boss Kristian Woolf said the journey was no longer than a coach trip to either Hull FC, or Hull KR, where Saints have already won this season.
Roby observed: “Obviously, the result wasn’t something we wanted but there are no excuses from me. Some people may say travel weariness was the key to our defeat but I don’t subscribe to that theory.”
Maybe table-toppers St Helens allowed a little complacency to creep into what was a below-par performance and went into the fixture with the wrong kind of attitude against the French, who had previously been leaking tries like a second-hand colander.
But all they can do now is try and eradicate the weekend stunner from their minds when they travel to Championship outfit Whitehaven on Saturday in the sixth round of the Betfred Challenge Cup.
The holders can’t afford to repeat the result of their Toulouse trip, otherwise a second successive defeat would send shockwaves around the Rugby League world.
It’s not out of the question, but highly unlikely.