Warrington 12-30 St Helens: Jack Welsby stars as Saints lay down marker before Challenge Cup final
Youngster inspires St Helens to victory in Challenge Cup final dress rehearsal
Last Updated: 09/08/19 12:02am
Jack Welsby underlined his huge promise with a man-of-the-match display as St Helens laid down a marker by beating Warrington 30-12 ahead of the Challenge Cup final.
Warrington coach Steve Price's gamble on fielding an under-strength team had plenty of merit when they twice held the lead in a highly-competitive first half but Saints' greater experience told in the end.
The result was a fourth successive defeat which undermines the Wolves' chances of hanging onto second spot in the league but their Challenge Cup ambitions remain intact.
Price was without nine members of his Cup semi-final line-up, including injured Australian playmaker Blake Austin, and they lost England second rower Ben Currie with a head knock after 13 minutes.
Back-up hooker Danny Walker also went off midway through the first half with an ankle injury and back rower Luis Johnson missed most of the second half with concussion to leave Price with depleted resources.
In the absence of a host of regulars, Price handed a debut to former England international Matty Smith against his old club, alongside 17-year-old Riley Dean, who understandably came up with a few errors, along with some nice touches that belied his tender years.
Former England rugby union centre Luther Burrell enjoyed a quiet full Super League debut but another 17-year-old, winger Josh Thewlis showed his promise with a try on his second senior appearance.
Saints, with the League Leaders' Shield already secured, were without six senior players but were inspired by acting captain Jonny Lomax while full-back Welsby proved a superb deputy for Lachlan Coote.
Welsby's opposite number, England full-back Stefan Ratchford also caught the eye and threatened to win the game on his own in the first half.
His cut-out passes, made with pace and precision, got both wingers, Jake Mamo and Thewlis, over for tries as the Wolves led 4-0 and 8-4.
He was unable to add either conversion but kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time to restrict the visitors to a two-point interval lead.
Saints' first-half tries came from centre Kevin Naiqama, who went over from a neat pass by Welsby, and a solo effort from Lomax, which were both converted by Danny Richardson.
A break out of the blue straight from a goal-line drop-out by substitute prop Kyle Amor created a first try for the club for Joseph Paulo four minutes into the second half and Richardson's third goal put his side two scores in front.
A second penalty from Ratchford on 56 minutes cut the deficit to 18-12 and Warrington threatened again when substitute Ben Murdoch-Masila smashed through the first line of defence until being stopped by a valiant Welsby.
But Welsby was then on hand to supply the final passes to centre Matty Costello and winger Tom Makinson that wrapped up the victory.
Man-of-the-match Jack Welsby admitted that it was a "massive challenge" taking on Warrington, and the youngster says his sights are firmly set on earning a place in Justin Holbrook's team to face the Wire again in the Challenge Cup final.
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook was impressed by how both sides lifted their game in the second period, and says he expects to have key players returning from injury by the time they meet again at Wembley.
Warrington head coach Steve Price believes the extra rest will work in his side's favour ahead of facing Wigan Warriors next week, and he was proud of his team's efforts against St Helens.