A win for St Helens in tonightís fixture with Hull FC would almost guarantee them a top eight position at the mid-season split and ensure that they would be playing in the Super Eights competition. It was also crucial to keep alive their distant hopes of a top four finish and a play-off place.
Hull FC are already comfortably in the elites competition, from round twenty-four onwards, but a win tonight would lift them into second spot, an ideal position to go into the seasons second phase.
FC were 24-14 victors in Hull back in March, but it was Saints who recorded a stunning 45-0 at the Magic weekend in Newcastle in May. The home side had a one point start on the coupon but the bookies were struggling to pick a winner.
Saints had a try ruled out early on for an offside as they dominated the early portion of the game but it was the visitors who opened the scoring on twenty-four minutes when Jamie Shaul was on hand to take a Josh Griffin pass and go twenty metres to score. Marc Sneyd added the extras for a six point lead.
The try stunned the Saints to action and after just over five minutes, and on the third consecutive set of six, James Roby slid to the try line on his back and grounded on the line over his shoulder. Mark Percival added the conversion to tie the scores.
In deteriorating weather conditions both sides were struggling to keep hold of the ball.
On the stroke of half time Mark Percival kicked a penalty from twenty metres after FC flopped on in the tackle to edge Saints into a two point lead at the break. It was a half strewn with errors and best forgotten by both sides and sets of supporters.
Saints extended the lead six minutes after the restart when the Hull defence melted away and allowed Theo Fages to break the line before he found the supporting Percival to run an unhindered twenty metres to dive over. Percival added the extras for 14-6.
Saints always looked the most likely to add to their total but on sixty-four a Sneyd kick hit Percivals hands and went over his head to Mahe Fonua who stepped past the last line of Saints defence to run over for the score. Sneyd added the extras to again reduce the margin to two points.
Saints won the points on seventy-three when Mark Percival performed miracles to tap forward a Fages chip kick to the corner and regather to ground one-handed just before going touch in goal. He slid the conversion attempt just wide but Saints now led by 18-12.
Danny Richardson kicked a twenty metre drop goal from right in front of the sticks to extend the lead to seven points and make the outcome of the game safe.
Not a game for the purists with the conditions ensuring that it would be error riddled. Saints were the best side on the night and deserved the win but the defence from Hull must also be applauded as they kept Saints scoring to a minimum despite overwhelming pressure at times. A win for the Warriors in Perpignan tomorrow will ensure that Saints will be in the Super Eights but it is almost mathematically sure that they are safe. A tilt at the top four, well thatís a different matter.
Saints: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival (2T, 3G), Grace, Fages, Richardson (DG), Douglas, Roby (T), Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Subs: Walmsley, Amor, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lee.
FC: Shaul (T), Fonua (T), Griffin, Tuimavae, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd (2G), Taylor, Houghton, Bowden, Washbrook, Minichiello, Manu. Subs: Matongo, Thompson, Watts, Connor.
Referee: Phil Bentham.