St Helens show strength by shutting out Huddersfield despite early red card

There have been plenty of hints already from this St Helens side over the past four seasons but if ever a performance underlined how we are witnessing the greatest team of the modern era, perhaps this was it. On the face of it, nothing seems out of the ordinary about a victory over fourth-placed Huddersfield that keeps the reigning champions four points clear at the top. But scratch the surface, and there are countless reasons to marvel at the quality Kristian Woolf’s side possesses.

Their march towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive title continues at pace here. Yet after three minutes, they lost their full-back, Will Hopoate, to injury and faced a tactical reshuffle. Ten minutes later, they were reduced to 12 men when Sione Mata’utia was sent off for making contact with a potentially injured player. But this St Helens side somehow seem immune to blows as significant as those, even against a title rival in Huddersfield.

Not only did they win here, but they did so in a manner that says everything about this team; at times, even with the odds stacked against them, this victory felt inevitable. But keeping their opponents scoreless despite all of that? That is scarcely believable, and a marker of the level of greatness we are witnessing.

“I thought St Helens were outstanding,” Huddersfield’s head coach, Ian Watson, said. “It looked we were a man light, not them.” It was a sentiment his opposite number, perhaps unsurprisingly, agreed with. “It was a great performance and I’m really proud of the boys,” said Woolf. “You could tell from the start they were here to play. It was the best defensive effort of the year, that’s for sure.”

Yet it was firmly in the balance at half-time. Mata’utia’s red card wasn’t capitalised upon by the Giants, who were well below par. And the hosts took the lead with the break approaching as Jonny Lomax’s kick was grounded by Joe Batchelor – two of many Saints stars who will be in England’s World Cup squad this autumn. The second half, however, was far more ruthless from the reigning champions.

Agnatius Paasi doubled their lead before Jack Welsby, this side’s real mercurial talent, ghosted through after Huddersfield’s Jermaine McGillvary left the field with an injury that could end his season. They even played the final eight minutes with a two-man disadvantage after Morgan Knowles was sent to the sin-bin. Surely Huddersfield would make that count? No. Instead, the Saints roared up the other end with Welsby’s break feeding Lomax, before Welsby added a drop goal on the hooter for 25-0.

Seven miles away in Wigan, Bevan French was setting the Super League record for the most tries in a single game, with seven in the Warriors’ win over Hull. But even then, this St Helens side still did their best to try and steal all the headlines.