St Helens overcame the dismissal of forward Matty Lees to rout Salford 60-10 and pull four points clear at the top of Betfred Super League but their victory was overshadowed by a neck injury to star man Ben Barba.
The Australian full-back scored his first Super League hat-trick, taking him clear at the top of the scoring charts with 15 tries from 13 appearances, but he fell awkwardly in a tackle eight minutes from the end.
Barba was seen writhing in agony before medics got to him and, after lengthy treatment on the pitch, he was carried off on a stretcher.
With England prop Alex Walmsley already sidelined with a fractured bone in his neck, it promises to be another major blow for the Super League leaders. Barba is a clear favourite for the Man of Steel award after dominating the first half of the regular season and he was again in sparkling form at the AJ Bell Stadium where Saints ran in 11 tries to two.
The other blemish for the leaders was the red card shown to Lees by referee Chris Kendall for a high tackle on Salford full-back Niall Evalds three minutes before half-time.
The dismissal of Lees for what appeared to be a swinging arm threatened to throw Saints off their stride. But they led 26-6 at the time and it merely galvanised them, as Grace added a sixth try on the stroke of half-time, and they went in 32-6 ahead.
They then went on to score another six tries against a disappointing Red Devils outfit, who had easily beaten Wakefield Trinity in their previous match.
Salford drafted in Jake Shorrocks, their loan signing from Wigan, in place of injured stand-off Robert Lui but he ended up playing the second half out of position at full-back after Evalds’ premature departure for concussion.
Featherstone Rovers’s giant-killing attempt against holders Hull FC will be the first of four Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth-round ties to be televised next month.
The Championship club’s clash with the back-to-back Challenge Cup winners will take place on Thursday, May 10 and broadcast by Sky Sports, who will also show the clash between Leigh and Salford 24 hours later.
The BBC will show the clash between League Leaders Shield winners Castleford Tigers and current Super League leaders St Helens on Saturday, May 12 and Warrington’s tie against big-spending Championship side Toronto Wolfpack the following day.