Super League: St Helens 12-4 Leigh Leopards – Saints stay top
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Super League: St Helens 12-4 Leigh Leopards – Saints stay top

St Helens made it three wins from three in a feisty encounter with Leigh Leopards to stay top of Super League.

Super League: St Helens 12-4 Leigh Leopards - Saints stay top
Super League: St Helens 12-4 Leigh Leopards – Saints stay top

The teams continued their feud from last season’s Challenge Cup semi-final as Leigh’s John Asiata was sin-binned after only 40 seconds.

Asiata was later injured but the visitors stayed in touch as Zak Hardaker replied to Jack Welsby’s try.

Saints upped the pressure in the second half for Tommy Makinson to score, and Mark Percival’s penalty kick sealed it.

These two sides played out three tight, tense Lancashire derbies last season, with the Leopards winning two, including that fractious semi-final on their way to Wembley glory.

Hostilities were resumed from the first whistle as Asiata scythed Sione Mata’utia’s legs from under him, resulting in a melee of players, with Asiata also going face-to-face with Morgan Knowles.

The Saints forward was one of four players injured in tackles by Asiata in that semi-final, leading to a rule change by the RFL, but this time the Samoan was sent to the sin-bin.

Leigh defended stoically and attacked expansively with 12 men, but Saints are in no mood to be also-rans again after seeing Wigan Warriors end their run of four consecutive titles, and Matt Whitley sent Welsby over to break the deadlock.

Brad Dwyer’s incredible tackle denied wrecking-ball Konrad Hurrell a try to keep the half-time score to 4-0, and that paid off with their first attack of the second half.

Ben Nakubuwai made the half-break and after Welsby managed to keep out Gareth O’Brien, Hardaker crashed over to level.

Saints, however, are showing strong signs that they are a tighter, more effective unit this season, and they stepped up a gear to leave Leigh winless this season.

Within three minutes, Hurrell was at it again, drawing in four tacklers and slipping an offload that sent Lewis Dodd through a depleted defence.

He had Makinson in support, and his try between the posts meant Percival had an easy conversion, to which he added a penalty to give his team a cushion.

Asiata ended the night on crutches with a torn calf muscle, and Leigh also lost winger Tom Briscoe with a similar injury to round off a disappointing night.

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens said:

[On John Asiata’s tackle] “I was a little bit surprised.

“I was told last year that those tackles weren’t illegal, which I had to accept, and now we know they are illegal, and the decision was made. From my perspective and the team’s perspective, we just move on.”

[On St Helens’ performance] “I thought we were gutsy in periods.

“I never felt like it really got going. We were scrappy at times and the conditions didn’t help that.

“I didn’t like the way we started the game. I think there was a feeling that it was just going to happen, but teams aren’t going to come here to lay down and have their bellies tickled, and we’ve got to understand that and rise to the challenge.

“I think there were elements of our best tonight, but we have got to do it more consistently.”

Leigh head coach Adrian Lam told BBC Radio Manchester:

“No two points, but I was very proud of our courage with so many things that went against us tonight.

“We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance to win with 15 minutes to go.

[On Asiata’s tackle]: “I thought his first point of contact looked perfectly fine and sliding down, but probably didn’t finish at the best angle, but that’s the sport, you make mistakes.

“Progression from last year with that rule should be that a penalty is sufficient. You don’t have to sin-bin the player to make a point, let’s keep the players on the field.

“It looks like he’s torn a calf, and I don’t know if going off played a part.”

St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Hurrell, Percival, Bennison, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Clark, Mata’utia, Whitley, Sironen, Knowles.

Interchanges: Mbye, Bell, Wingfield, Delaney.

Leigh: O’Brien, Briscoe, Hardaker, Leutele, Charnley, Moylan, Lam, Hughes, Dwyer, Mulhern, O’Donnell, Halton, Asiata.

Interchanges: Norman, Davis, Nakubuwai, Trout.

Sin-bin: Asiata (1).

Referee: Liam Moore.

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