Kristian Woolf got the better of former assistant Richard Marshall as St. Helens started their quest for a third-straight Super League title with a 29-6 win over Salford Red Devils in the opening game of the new season.
The Saints went in 13-0 to the good at half time thanks to tries from Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace, having two other possible scores chalked off by the video referee at Emerald Headingley.
Salford were given a glimmer of hope when Ken Sio’s try 15 minutes into the second half put them back in contention, but Mark Percival’s try on his return to action was followed by others from Kevin Naiqama and Alex Walmsley late on as the defending champions got off to a winning start.
Saints strike early
The reigning champions were ahead inside the opening three minutes, as Saints took advantage of a Salford knock-on in their own 20-metres. Theo Fages played a high kick across to the right and Makinson out-jumped Krisnan Inu to get the ball rolling.
Makinson – on kicking duty in the absence of Lachlan Coote – went on to add the first of four conversions and kicked a further penalty to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the Saints after centre Percival had a try ruled out for a forward pass from Jonny Lomax in the build-up.
Despite that, Salford were not without their moments of their own during the first half. Their quick offloading game and some strong carries took them to within striking distance of the try line, but they were unable to make the most of them.
That allowed St. Helens to exert pressure and they went further ahead five minutes before the break when Lomax – who had a try ruled out himself for a double movement – recovered a loose ball and passed out to Grace who dived over wide on the left hand side.
It was a score that the Red Devils were unhappy with, with Kallum Watkins appearing to have the ball ripped from him in the build up, but after consulting the video referee, on-field referee Liam Moore’s initial decision of try stood.
Last season’s Grand Final hero Jack Welsby then fired over a drop goal with the final play of the first period, although Saints were dealt a blow soon after the restart when they lost new signing Agnatius Paasi after a collision with Red Devils forward Pauli Pauli.
Red Devils fight back
And Salford struck back in the 55th minute when Danny Addy carried the ball forward and Tui Lolohea played an excellent pass over to Sio in space on the left to finish, followed by Inu converting.
But hopes for a Red Devils comeback were dashed on the hour mark. Another high kick from French half-back Fages this time picked out the run of Percival, who leapt above Dan Sarginson to grab the ball and finish for his first try since the 2019 Grand Final win over the same opponents, with Makinson adding the extras.
Saints seal it
And inside the final ten minutes, the Saints turned the screw to seal victory. Fiji international Naiqama got in on the act, taking advantage of Inu’s error after spilling a kick, before Walmsley crashed over late on to complete an opening night victory for the holders.