The omens didn´t look perfect for, the soon to be departed, Kristian Wolf as his Saints side sought their fourth consecutive Grand Final and a trip to Old Trafford to face their season finale nemesis, the Leeds Rhinos, next weekend.
The Salford Red Devils came into the game on a fantastic run of form, having clinically despatched the Huddersfield Giants last weekend after humiliating them on their own ground. Paul Rowley´s side were looking for their second trip to a Grand Final, having lost out to today’s opposition in 2019, but would have to do it without the services of star man Brodie Croft.
Despite the loss of Alex Walmsley, the bookies still fancied Saints for the win and had given the Red Devils an eight point start on the handicap coupon, but most supporters and pundits were struggling to call the result for what had all the hallmarks of a classic battle.
Inside the first hundred seconds Andy Ackers was taken off for a Head Injury Assessment after receiving friendly fire as Saints set out their stall for a rough and tough approach to a potential banana skin. Ackers failing the test and absent for the remainder of the game.
It had been a gladiatorial start to the game, both sides being brutal in their defence. Saints had the first real opportunity on nine minutes when Joe Batchelor chased a Jonny Lomax grubber but grounded on the dead ball line.
But on thirteen the same combination did result in the deadlock being broken; Batchelor able to ground the Lomax grubber in goal by the right upright. Tommy Makinson made no mistake with the conversion to give the home side a 6-0 lead.
Great Salford defence prevented a second quick try when Joe Burgess managed to ankle tap Makinson, who spilled the ball as he hit the ground. Salford were scrambling in defence and on the next set Lomax passed to Batchelor, the big forward spinning over the line to ground. As Makinson added the extras the Red Devils were in danger of getting blown away.
On twenty-three Morgan Knowles committed a chicken-wing tackle and was sin-binned and two plays later Kallum Watkins found a gap in the Saints line off a Chris Atkin pass and hit it at speed to go in for Salford´s first points of the game. Marc Sneyd added the conversion, and the lead was back to just a converted try.
Batchelor almost completed his hat-trick on twenty-eight but knocked on in the act of scoring. Hurrell had the ball stolen on the half hour, but Makinson failed to kick a wind assisted forty-five metre penalty goal. Saints weren´t finding it easy to add to their total.
In the dying seconds, Lomax slotted over a long-range drop goal to extend the lead to seven points as the sides headed for the sheds.
Sione Mata´utia knocked on a Lomax grubber on forty-five with the try line begging but it was a period of intense Saints pressure. Saints opted to tap a penalty for a high tackle, but Matty Lees was guilty of a double movement as the attack broke down, Salford just hanging on.
Just before the hour mark the Red Devils struck back with a sensational seventy metre try after Salford dropped the ball, fast hands finding Burgess to break down the wing before finding Ryan Brierley in support to go over and round behind the sticks. Sneyd added the conversion for 12-13, the sides only now separated by the first half Lomax drop goal.
An awful mistake from Watkins on sixty-eight, flinging the ball to Saints in the tackle, gifted Saints a great opportunity and on the fourth tackle Lomax dummied before putting on a grubber kick which was caught and grounded brilliantly by Jon Bennison to score the match winning try. Makinson added the goal and Saints were back into a seven-point lead.
Makinson was sin-binned on seventy-four for holding back Tim Lafai as he chased the ball into the Saints goal area. Salford unlucky to not be awarded a penalty try.
Ken Sio picked up a heavy knock on seventy-seven as Salford went down fighting, Saints riding the clock to a 19-12 win.
St Helens made it into their fourteenth final, the fourth in succession, and now had to beat a Leeds Rhinos side who they have never defeated at Old Trafford despite four previous attempts. Whoever wins next week will move on to nine Grand Final wins and lead the wins table. All credit to Salford, they were backs against the wall for long periods of the game but made a real fist of it and gave Saints a considerable scare.
The game moves on to Old Trafford next Saturday night but Saints will be watching their injury room, and the disciplinary panel, with some major concerns before they name their final side. Grand Final rivalry with the Rhinos rekindled.
St Helens: Bennison (T), Makinson (3G, SB on 74)), Hurrell, Mata´utia, Percival, Welsby, Lomax (DG), Paasi, Roby, Lees, Batchelor (2T), Sironen, Knowles (SB on 23). Subs: Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wingfield, Bell.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley (T), Sio, Lafai, Cross, Burgess, Atkin, Sneyd (2G), Ormondroyd, Ackers, Vuniyayawa, Wright, Watkins (T), Taylor. Subs: Bourouh, Gerrard, Dupree, Luckley.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, (SB), 12-4, 12-6, 13-6 : HT : 13-10, 13-12, 17-12, 19-12, (SB) : FT.
Lead Exchanges: St Helens.
Referee: Chris Kendall.