England drew first blood in the opening game of this year’s international Origin series with a comfortable victory over a patched-up Exiles team.
England dominated from the kick-off to avenge last year’s defeat in the inaugural game but the Exiles will have their chance to level the two-match programme when the teams meet again at Huddersfield on July 4.
However, the overseas team look likely to be without their captain Thomas Leuluai, who was carried off on a stretcher with suspected ankle ligament damage on the hour.
The Exiles had earlier been hit by the late withdrawal of four front-line players which undoubtedly reduced their effectiveness and made England’s task that much easier.
The big plus for coach Steve McNamara was the performance of second rower Gareth Hock, who marked the end of his three-year exile from the England scene with an impressive display as well as the game’s opening try.
There were also encouraging efforts from England regulars James Roby and Sean O’Loughlin while Danny Tickle justified his call-up with an industrious display.
It was hardly a classic, however, and, in conditions made hazardous by torrential rain, it was no surprise that all England’s three tries stemmed from kicks.
In a scrappy opening handling errors from Saints duo Tony Puletua and Sia Soliola put the Exiles under early pressure but knock-ons from Sam Tomkins let them off the hook.
Another fumble, this time by David Fa’ologo, gave England the position to score through Hock, who regathered possession after Exiles half-back Scott Dureau got a hand to Rangi Chase’s grubber.
And it was a towering kick from Chase that created a try for Tickle, with Carl Ablett palming the ball back for Kevin Sinfield to provide the final pass.
Sinfield converted both tries to make it 12-0 but the Exiles pulled a try back on 31 minutes when half-backs Leuluai and Dureau worked the ball out wide for St Helens winger Francis Meli to cross at the corner.
Conditions eased in the second half and England showed more urgency, although it was from another kick that they extended their lead.
Australian winger Joel Monaghan fumbled the ball from Sinfield’s “bomb” and Tomkins was on hand to gather and scoot over for his side’s third try, to which Sinfield added a touchline conversion.
England thought they had scored again when winger Ryan Hall won the race to Tomkins’ clever kick to the corner but video referee Ian Smith ruled a knock-on.
That was a let-off for the Exiles and, although they lost their captain in the process with Leuluai damaging his ankle in the tackle, they recovered from the blow to register a second try.
A sustained spell of pressure on the England line eventually paid dividends when centre Daryl Millard raced onto Dureau’s pinpoint grubber kick and Dureau kicked his first goal.