AS was always expected, Hull KR’s hopes of reaching the Super 8s are now extinguished – so all eyes duly turn to Wembley.
In fairness, one eye last night was already firmly trained on next Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington Wolves when Rovers head coach Chris Chester opted to rest Albert Kelly.
To reach the upper echelons, his side needed to win handsomely at champions St Helens and then hope leaders Leeds Rhinos would utterly annihilate Catalans Dragons tomorrow on the final day of the regular Super League season.
It was always a long shot, their Super 8s hopes essentially already undone by an untimely three-game losing run.
But without Kelly, their talismanic scrum-half, it was nigh on impossible and it was the ruthless hosts, instead, who improved their own points difference no end.
Rovers, perhaps understandably so, wrapped the Australian’s damaged knee in cotton wool and told him to rest easy until they take on Warrington at Headingley in a week, the prize at stake the East Yorkshire club’s first Wembley appearance since 1986.
That said, when his colleagues scored two tries in double-quick time towards the end of the first half last night, hopes of escaping ninth spot were fleetingly raised.
The first was a comical affair as – already trailing 24-0 – John Boubdebza’s awful pass from dummy-half bobbled around before Kieran Dixon picked up, darted and almost army-crawled his way through a bemused Saints defensive line to score.
Soon after, though, their second stemmed from real class as Dane Chisholm, the Australian stand-off making his debut after joining on loan from Canterbury Bulldogs for the remainder of the campaign, produced a lovely cut-out pass to send Ben Cockayne free down his right wing.
Chisholm then supported and showed great awareness to furnish the supporting Boudebza and Josh Mantellato’s second conversion suddenly made it 24-12.
Was an upset imminent? Would some calculators be required after all?
When Luke Walsh, Saints’ stylish scrum-half, made almost his only error all night, striking a post with a penalty after the interval hooter, Rovers fans dared to dream knowing they still remained just two scores behind.
They started brightly in the second period, too, and a score then could have changed things, but a touch of misfortune ensured it would soon become one-way traffic once more.
Chisholm, who showed some neat touches, made a half-break before grubbering forward to try to beat Adam Quinlan.
However, the ball went directly to his fellow NRL short-term recruit and the Saints full-back opened up into 80m of free ground to score a 50th-minute try that knocked the life out of Rovers.
From there, with scrum-half Walsh’s merciless probing and Saints’ gargantuan pack marauding around, cracks began to readily appear.
Mark Flanagan and the excellent second-row James Greenwood profited with further tries before some slick handling from the hosts’ backline saw Adam Swift swerve over for their eighth of the night.
The winger added his second at the death, breaking Dixon’s poor attempted tackle to score from 70m, the Rovers full-back’s defensive inadequacies having been exposed numerous times.
Saints subsequently went to the top of Super League, probably only for 24 hours, and, with Walsh and former Rovers stand-off Travis Burns dictating from the halves, look in good nick for their own semi-final against Leeds at Warrington on Friday night.
That should be a classic.
They were almost perfect in the opening spell when they blitzed stunned Rovers with four tries in just nine minutes from the 15th to 24th.
Dixon could not claim Walsh’s high kick so Burns collected and sent Greenwood in for his first before, in the restart set, Quinlan zipped clear up the middle for Burns to score himself against the club he left last winter for £100,000.
When Cockayne lost possession, Walsh fired a brilliant pass for Matty Dawson to score and after Burnes’s 40/20, Atela Vea, the powerful forward making his return after injury in March, bullied his way over the top of Dixon for their fourth.
Rovers – who defeated Saints earlier in the year – briefly reacted but it was far too briefly and, though prop James Green ran hard, they will have to raise their game considerably to see off the threat of Warrington and reach Wembley.
Similarly so, they will face some arduous battles in The Qualifiers, too.
This was a fourth successive defeat and the likes of Leigh Centurions and Bradford Bulls will be sensing blood.
With the talent at their disposal, though, you cannot imagine them being dragged into the relegation mire.
But it all depends on how they react – win or lose – in the aftermath of their Challenge Cup odyssey, whenever that ends.
St Helens: Quinlan; Dawson, Turner, Percival, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Charnock, Savelio, Greenwood, Jones, Thompson. Substitutes: Masoe, Vea, Walmsley, Flanagan.
Hull KR: Dixon; Cockayne, Salter, Welham, Mantellato; Blair, Chisholm; Walker, Lunt, Puletua, McCarthy, Horne, Burke. Substitutes: Donaldson, Green, Boudebza, Tilse.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).