St Helens scored four tries in the final quarter as they came from 16-12 down to defeat relegated Toulouse 36-16 on the day they received the League Leaders’ Shield at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
The French team, who will return to the Championship in 2023 after just one season in the top flight, led 16-12 midway through the second half thanks to tries from Ilias Bergal, Nathan Peats and Eloi Pelissier.
But the reigning Super League champions, who this week confirmed coach Kristian Woolf would be leaving the club at the end of the season, showed they were in no mood to let Sylvain Houles’ men spoil the party.
Saints produced a strong finish which included a second try from Lees and one apiece from Konrad Hurrell, Jack Welsby and Tommy Makinson.
Joe Batchelor and Curtis Sironen also scored tries while Makinson kicked five goals from as many attempts. Youngster Ben Lane also added a late goal.
Saints lift League Leaders’ Shield
At full-time, Saints were presented with the League Leaders Shield for the first time in three years. They had already sealed top spot on Monday despite losing to Wakefield because their nearest rivals Wigan lost against Hull KR.
Saints had lost their last two games but they were boosted by the return of several key players from injury including Hurrell and Welsby. Curtis Sironen and Morgan Knowles were back after suspension. Youngster Ben Lane retained his place in the squad.
Toulouse were without Lloyd White, Tony Gigot and Lucas Albert through with injury. Romain Navarrete and Corey Norman were suspended. Benjamin Laguerre made his debut from the bench and former Saints forward Joseph Paulo made his final appearance before retirement. Dominique Peyroux made his 200th career appearance with 122 of those being for St Helens.
Toulouse came into this game on the back of six straight defeats. But they silenced the home crowd with a try in the third minute. It had been an uncharacteristically poor start from Saints who booted the kick-off out on the full and were hit with a six-again call.
Toulouse took advantage of Saints’ lethargy as Chris Hankinson floated a kick to the corner which was claimed by winger Bergal with Makinson and Jonny Lomax beaten in flight. Hankinson missed the conversion attempt.
Makinson went close to scoring as he dived for the corner in the ninth minute after taking a fine pass from Welsby but Saints did get off the mark moments later. Batchelor raced under the posts after taking a pass from Lees. Makinson’s conversion gave Saints a 6-4 lead.
The teams went set-for-set with scoring chances at a premium but it was the home side who struck next eight minutes before half-time. Sironen showed a great change of pace to sprint clear of the covering Toulouse defence from 20 metres after taking Welsby’s pass. Makinson added the extras to make it 12-4.
With only three minutes of the first half remaining, Toulouse showed they were in no mood to roll over and scored their second try. Hooker Peats bravely charged down a powerful attempted clearance by Welsby and won the race for the ball, touching down under the posts for a try which Hankinson converted.
HT: St Helens 12-10 Toulouse Olympique
Toulouse again silenced the home fans with a third try nine minutes after the restart. Pelissier spotted a gap from dummy half and nipped through for a try from close range. Hankinson’s second conversion edged Toulouse 16-12 ahead.
But the final quarter belonged to the home side who finished well with four tries. Hurrell, Lomax and Roby combined brilliantly to keep the ball alive; and Lees was on hand to power through to touch down. Makinson added the goal.
With 13 minutes remaining, Saints looked to have sealed victory when Hurrell kicked for the corner and won the race for the ball. Makinson converted from the touchline.
There was still time for Makinson to get another Saints try, producing a stylish finish at the corner. And with time almost up, Jon Bennison broke dangerously through the middle. He had Welsby in support who finished well under the posts. Lane added the extras.
FT: St Helens 36-16 Toulouse Olympique
St Helens: Bennison; Makinson, Hurrell, Davies, Lane; Welsby, Lomax; Paasi, Lussick, Lees, Sironen, Batchelor, Knowles. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Bell, Norman.
Tries: Batchelor, Sironen, Lees, Hurrell, Makinson, Welsby Goals: Makinson 5, Lane 2
Toulouse: Ashall-Bott; Laguerre, Armitage, Jussaume, Bergal; Hankinson, Paulo; Belmas, Peats, Alvaro, Peyroux, Stefani, Marion. Subs: Pelissier, Hansen, Sangare, Bretherton.
Tries: Bergal, Peats, Pelissier Goals: Hankinson 2
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