YESTERDAY was St Helens’ 150th birthday, and it feels like that long since Castleford won there.
Since Super League began in 1996, the best they have managed was a 32-32 draw in 1998. Castleford’s most recent win on any of St Helens’ various home grounds was 12-8 in a Regal Trophy tie in 1992 and they haven’t tasted league success there since a 29-16 victory in 1990.
Castleford went into the sides’ opening Betfred Super League fixture with high hopes of ending that 30-game winless run, but not only did the hoodoo continue, Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of the sort of drubbing they were accustomed to handing out last year.
Two tries in the opening seven minutes set the scene and Castleford were 22-0 adrift by half-time.
Things did not improve for last year’s league leaders and Grand Final runners-up in the second half as Saints ended with a total of eight tries, seven of them converted by Danny Richardson.
It is a century and a half since Queen Victoria granted the charter that incorporated the municipal borough of St Helens, bringing together the townships of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle.
A year of celebrations are planned and on this very early evidence, that could include a day out at Old Trafford in October.
Saints were white hot and most of what they did came off, but it was a grim night for Tigers.
Castleford could not blame off-season changes for their lacklustre effort. Unusually for an opening fixture, there was only one new signing on show, Castleford giving a competitive debut to prop James Green.
Teenager Jake Trueman was preferred to Jamie Ellis at stand-off and Joe Wardle was not risked due to a slight “niggle” picked up in training.
All Saints’ players were at the club last year, but after a full pre-season under coach Justin Holbrook and with full-back Ben Barba now fully acclimatised, they looked even sharper than the team which finished last year so strongly.
Barba is favourite to be named Man of Steel this year and the Australian showed exactly why in the opening half an hour, scoring one try, helping create another and then providing the kick or final pass for two more. In the second half he added another assist and his second touchdown.
Barba was in support to cross after just four minutes when Mark Percival broke down Saints’ left and drew full-back Ben Roberts. Then in the next set, James Roby powered through the middle, Jon Wilkin, Barba and Roby again kept the ball moving and Zeb Taia was on hand to go over.
Saints added a third touchdown after 24 minutes. Barba’s kick seemed to be going dead, but Alex Walmsley batted it back and Jonny Lomax touched down.
Referee James Child indicated no try, but he was overruled by video assistant Phil Bentham.
Lomax landed a 40-20 in the next set, Tigers were penalised and from that Percival powered over from a show and go by Barba and the conversion made it 22-0.
Castleford came out with more purpose in the second half, but without really threatening.
Saints were comfortable enough to tap a penalty in front of the posts after 55 minutes and their adventure was rewarded with six points rather than two when Percival forced his way over from a pass by – inevitably – Barba.
Soon after that, Saints prop Kyle Amor was sin-binned for raising a knee on Roberts in a tackle and Tigers took advantage to break their duck through Paul McShane, who crossed from Green’s neat offload and Luke Gale converted.
With 13 minutes left Barba capped an outstanding display when he got across to shove Greg Eden into touch, then scored his second try – which Richardson improved – in the resulting set.
Barba’s pass almost set up a late score for Regan Grace, but –after Child indicated a try – Bentham spotted a hand in touch.
Even so, Saints added back-to-back tries in the final moments as Taia scored his second and Percival completed a hat-trick to end a miserable night for Tigers.
St Helens: Barba, Makinson, Morgan.,Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Substitutes: Fages, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Knowles.
Castleford Tigers: Roberts, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Trueman, Gale, Moors, McShane, Green, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Millington,Milner, Sene-Lefao, Cook.
Referee: J Child (Batley).