James Roby’s glittering St Helens career will extend by at least another week after the four-time defending champions shrugged off a second-half fightback by Warrington to seal a 16-8 win that keeps their hopes of a fifth straight Grand Final triumph alive.
The 37-year-old Roby bade farewell to his home-town fans in his record 550th appearance for the club as Saints made hard work of their elimination play-off before Tommy Makinson’s zippy 58th-minute try ultimately shoved them home.
It means Saints will head to Perpignan to face Catalans Dragons in their play-off semi-final next Friday night and Roby, who was withdrawn to a standing ovation with 15 minutes remaining, can still dream of one more night of Old Trafford glory.
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 30, 2023
Saints had chiselled out an 8-0 half-time advantage on the back of Lewis Dodd’s opening try but despite hardly handing Warrington a look-in, they threatened to spectacularly blow their lines early in the second half as Connor Wrench levelled then Alex Walmsley was sent to the sin-bin.
Drawing on all their experience, Paul Wellens’ men weathered the storm and Makinson’s try, followed by a Mark Percival penalty with seven minutes remaining that stretched Saints’ lead beyond six, effectively confirmed their progression.
For Warrington, who had blazed to the top of the fledgling Super League table under former boss Daryl Powell, it was a disappointing end to a season that had combusted so spectacularly even clinging on to the final play-off slot had seemed a notable achievement.
Wire scarcely got a look-in in the opening period, and will have been relieved that only Dodd’s converted try, superbly served up by a Curtis Sironen pass, and Percival’s penalty were all the hosts had to show for their efforts.
🏁 FT with @ResultingIT
Our 2023 season ends in the play-offs pic.twitter.com/OC9ko0GhzW
— Warrington Wolves (@WarringtonRLFC) September 30, 2023
It hardly seemed likely that Saints’ missed opportunities – a Makinson kick palmed into touch by Williams, Percival’s fumbled pass from James Bell, and a 70-metre surge sparked by sparked by Jack Welsby that came to nothing – would come back to haunt them.
But Warrington were back in the game within two minutes of the second half when Wrench wriggled past William Hopoate in a previously resolute Saints defence and survived a stumble to make it to the try line, Stefan Ratchford squeezing a difficult conversion.
Saints were reduced to 12 when Walmsley went high on Jordan Crowther, and the hosts briefly threatened to unravel after two more penalties for illegal tackles culminated in Ratchford improbably booting Wire level after 54 minutes.
But Saints dug deep to regain the ascendency, re-taking the lead just before the hour-mark when Welsby’s swivelling off-load helped Makinson dart over before Percival’s second conversion took them six clear.
Wire’s fading hopes were not helped when Joe Bullock was yellow-carded for swinging an arm at Matty Lees, and Percival’s late penalty put the seal on a harder-than-necessary win for the defending champions.