St Helens beat Catalans Dragons in Kieron Cunningham’s first match in charge at Langtree Park.
In a disjointed and scrappy affair there were four different Saints scorers who gave them a comfortable victory.
After just 12 seconds Catalans centre Willie Tonga sustained a serious injury when challenging Alex Walmsley. After a delay of around eight minutes play restarted, but Tonga was unable to return to the action.
The French side thought they had scored when Zeb Taia went over the line after prevailing in an aerial challenge. Referee Phil Bentham said “No Try” and referred the decision.
That decision was upheld and Saints awarded a penalty for challenging in the air, which seemed somewhat harsh on the Dragons.
Just three minutes later new signing Atelea Vea scored his first St Helens try after good work from Jon Wilkin.
Catalans were struggling to make an impact in the game with the strong defence from Saints and the hosts being quick into the tackle from the play of the ball.
In the 16th minute Phi Bentham had to make another difficult decision as Adam Swift looked to have grounded the ball, but again the official called “No Try”, a decision again upheld by the video referees after Morgan Escare knocked on meaning play restarted with a goal line drop-out.
It was four minutes before half time when Catalans made their pressure pay. After forcing three goal line drop-outs and seven consecutive penalties Greg Richards was put in the sin-bin for Saints.
A quick tap penalty from Eloi Pelissier capitalised on the one-man advantage making it 6-6 just before half time
There was just seconds of the first half left when Thomas Bosc kicked a drop goal to take the Dragons into a 7-6 lead to the displeasure of the home supporters.
Four minutes into the second half Escare seemed to have got Tommy Makinson into touch, but he was penalised for using his shoulder.
St Helens restarted and got the ball to Jordan Turner, who crossed the try line, after a quick offload from Jonny Lomax to extend the hosts advantage to 10-7.
After two more “No Try” decisions, one for each side, Michael Oldfield was put in the sin-bin for Catalans for a professional foul.
A quick break forced Oldfield to stop a quick play of the ball when the Saints had men over, therefore stopping an almost certain try.
It took a minute for St Helens to take advantage of the extra man as replacement Andre Savelio pounced on the opportunity of a quick tap to score.
Makinson got his name on the score sheet with five minutes left to play after James Roby broke past three Catalan players before it took three more to stop him.
That created space on the right hand side which Makinson dutifully took benefit of giving Saints the points and an 18-7 first match victory.
This was a positive start from last year’s Champions under ex-Saints hooker Kieron Cunningham, without half-back Luke Walsh who missed through injury.
A high intensity pressure game without the ball proved tonight that the Saints players have stamina in abundance to cover the ground for the 80 minutes at the speed they did to force mistakes from the French visitors.