GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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St Helens roared back to the top of Super League on Saturday after grinding down a gritty, injury-hit Salford to win 28-6 at Knowsley Road.
Saints had frittered away a six-point lead after back-to-back defeats by Hull and Bradford but centre Jamie Lyon scored a brace of tries to help them get back to winning ways.
Star of the show was hooker Keiron Cunningham, one of 12 Saints players in line to play in Tuesday?s XXXX Test between Great Britain and New Zealand at Knowsley Road.
Salford simply had no answer to Cunningham?s darting runs from dummy half which set up tries for Lyon and Jon Wilkin.
The visitors trailed only 10-6 at half-time but there was never any serious doubt over the outcome.
Saints opened the scoring when stand-off Leon Pryce took Sean Long?s pass and sliced between defenders Andrew Brocklehurst and Stephen Myler for a seventh-minute try.
Salford, without five first-choice backs through injury, gave debuts to 18-year-old winger Daley Williams and Samoan prop Danny Lima, who has joined them on loan from Warrington, and both men figured prominently in the early stages.
But it was Saints who bossed the show, without being fully able to turn their obvious superiority into points.
Wingers Francis Meli and Ade Gardner both missed clear-cut chances close to the line and full-back Paul Wellens also lost the ball in attempting to touch down.
St Helens? pressure eventually told when a weaving run by Cunningham set up the position for centre Lyon to cross for a second try to make it 10-0 after 24 minutes.
Salford threatened early in the match when second rower Ian Sibbit broke clear only for Lee Gilmour to pull off a timely interception and they got on the scoreboard nine minutes before the interval when heavyweight substitute Gareth Haggerty charged over from 10 metres, taking three defenders over the line with him.
Myler?s successful conversion closed the cap to just four points, which somewhat flattered the visitors.
But normal service was resumed when Cunningham re-entered the fray early in the second half after a well-deserved rest.
His determined run from dummy half set alarm bells ringing in the Reds defence and second rower Jon Wilkin ran onto his perfectly-judged pass to score Saints? third try.
Three minutes later skipper Paul Sculthorpe got the decisive touch after a Long high kick had caused mayhem in the Salford defence.
Lyon kicked his second goal and also scored his second try, taking Long?s pass and fending off the challenge of Luke Robinson to touch down.
Leading tryscorer Gardner then finished off the scoring, pouncing on Wilkin?s high kick to the corner to claim his 19th try of the season.
The game was held up near the end to allow Meli to have treatment for a leg injury which looks certain to deny him the chance of a Test comeback with the Kiwis, while Vinnie Anderson also handed New Zealand coach Brian McClennan an injury headache.
St Helens (10) 28.
Tries: Pryce, Lyon 2, Wilkin, Sculthorpe, Gardner. Goals: Lyon 2.
Salford (6) 6.
Tries: Haggerty. Goals: Myler.
St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, P. Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Sculthorpe, Hooper.
Replacements: Graham, Fozzard, Wilkin, V. Anderson.
Salford: Hodgson, Langi, Littler, Moule, Williams, Myler, Robinson, Coley, Alker, Rutgerson, Sibbit, Brocklehurst, Finnigan.
Replacements: Charles, Haggerty, Lima, Highton.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington)