Last years Super League Grand Final was subject to a rematch at the Totally Wicked Stadium as reigning Champions took on last years surprise package, Salford Red Devils.
Saints are favourites with the bookies to finish top of the pile, and repeat last years feat of lifting the trophy at Old Trafford but the Red Devils will take comfort from their elevated position in the odds as they are tipped to finish mid-table rather than be fighting relegation.
Salford hadn’t won in St Helens for forty years and pre-match they were given little chance of overcoming that poor record as the new season got underway.
First blood went to the visitors from the boot of Tui Lolohea after Jack Welsby was penalised for an incorrect play the ball thirty metres from the Saints sticks. Two minutes later Saints turned down the opportunity to level the scores with their own penalty and managed to force a drop-out with the resulting set of six.
On twelve minutes Zeb Taia took a Jonny Lomax pass to ghost through the Salford defence and ground. Saints had made the pressure count and when Lachlan Coote kicked the extras the Saints had a 6-2 lead.
On eighteen Alex Walmsley powered over the line by the right upright after massive Saints pressure on the Salford line had forced another repeat set after a goal-line drop-out. Coote had a simple task to kick the conversion for 12-2. Saints were in total control.
A spectacular effort by Rhys Williams was ruled out for Salford on twenty-nine as the video referee confirmed he’d put a foot in touch as the Red Devils mounted a rare attack deep in the Saints half.
Three minutes before the interval Theo Fages threw a dummy and stepped off his left foot to go through a big gap and score from ten metres out. Coote was again accurate with the boot and the Saints took an 18-2 lead into the sheds.
Within the opening two minutes of the second half the Red Devils twice went close to scoring but on forty-five it was Kevin Naiqama who regained the momentum for Saints as he coasted over down the right wing to ground in the corner. Mark Percival took over the kicking duties from the injured Coote and landed his touchline effort for 24-2.
Ken Sio struck back for Salford on forty-nine with a one-handed score in the right corner after Kevin Brown had been held down in the tackle. Lolohea drilled his conversion between the uprights to reduce the arrears to sixteen points.
As the game hit the hour mark Naiqama grabbed his second of the night as he took a miss-out pass and again went down the right wing to score in the corner. Percival made his second touchline conversion look simple as Saints hit thirty.
Jack Welsby scored Saints sixth try of the night on sixty-four after taking a short pass and jinking past two attempted tackles to ground. Percival added goal number three for 36-8, the Champions putting in a Champion performance.
It took six minutes for Welsby to add his second as he dribbled the ball over the line from acting half-back before stooping to ground. Percival’s kick made it 42-8 and it was all too embarrassing for the Red Devils.
Walmsley scored his second on seventy-four, crashing through the broken Red Devils defence to score from ten metres. Percival kicked the conversion for 48-8.
While Salford had the odd moment, the game was controlled by St Helens as took up in 2020 exactly where they left off in 2019. They issued an early warning to the rest of Super League that they will be the side to beat again this season as they look to make it back-to-back trophies. Despite the heavy loss, Salford showed some flair and they will be too strong for a number of sides in this season’s competition but it is already difficult to look past Saints for the major honours.
Saints: Coote (3G), Welsby (2T), Naiqama (2T), Percival (5G), Grace, Lomax, Fages (T), Walmsley (2T), Bentley, Thompson, Taia (T), Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Subs: Lees, Ashworth, Paulo, Smith.
Red Devils: Evalds, Sio (T), Welham, Sarginson, Williams, Lolohea (2G), Brown, Mossop, Lussick, Dudson, Greenwood, McCarthy, Burke. Subs: Pauli, Ikahihifo, Yates, Johnson.
Referee: Liam Moore.