Super League: St Helens 29-6 Salford - Champions start with win at Headingley

Australian signing Joel Thompson (left) was on the winning side at Headingley on his St Helens debut in the win over Salford
Australian signing Joel Thompson (left) was on the winning side at Emerald Headingley on his St Helens debut
Betfred Super League
St Helens (13) 29
Tries: Makinson, Grace, Percival, Naiqama, Walmsley Goals: Makinson 4 Drop goals: Welsby
Salford (0) 6
Tries: Sio Goals: Inu

Champions St Helens launched the 2021 Super League season in the Covid-free bubble of Emerald Headingley with a solid victory over Salford Red Devils.

In the first of six behind-closed-doors games over the opening weekend in Leeds, Saints scored inside two minutes through Tommy Makinson.

Regan Grace and Mark Percival crossed either side of Ken Sio's try for Salford.

Late tries for Kevin Naiqama and Alex Walmsley added gloss to the score.

Grand Final hero Jack Welsby also dropped a goal, a nice way to bookend the infamous 'drop-goal ricochet' try with which he wrapped up the 2020 season in Hull almost four months ago, to climax Saints' last-gasp win over Wigan.

Saints were weakened by the absence of Lachlan Coote, forcing the adaptable Welsby's switch to full-back - and victory came at the cost of a late first-half injury to one of their pre-season signings Agnatius Pa'asi, who came off the worse from a collision with Salford's Pauli Pauli.

But they were in front early when right winger Makinson caught Theo Fages' off-balance kick and scored by the corner flag.

After a Makinson penalty, to add to the conversion of his own try, Saints had two tries disallowed before Grace went in at the left corner, despite the suggestion that this one should have been chalked off too as Percival had ripped the ball off Kallum Watkins.

Sio's try in the corner gave former Saints number two Richard Marshall's Salford hope in his first game in charge, especially when Krisnan Inu's conversion brought them to within seven points at 13-6.

But fit-again centre Percival marked his return by latching on to another Fages kick - for his first try since 2019 - and Naiqama became the final member of the Saints four-man back line to cross before rampaging forward Walmlsey completed the scoring.

Following the elongated 2020 campaign which culminated in November, Covid-19 rules still apply for 2021. And the Saints-Salford game at Headingley was the first of two matches to kick off the season behind locked doors, followed by Leigh's meeting with last year's Grand Final runners-up Wigan.

St Helens coach Kristian Woolf:

"It was a good game of footy. Both teams came out with good intensity and we did a good job coming through A lot of things didn't go our way in the first half but we didn't allow that to frustrate us.

"Agnatius Pa'asi is fine. He's recovered really well. He was really good the time he was on the field. He showed what sort of impact he's going to have for us.

"Mark Percival had a little bit of a twinge. We don't think it's anything serious but obviously with his history we needed to be smart.

"Lachlan could have played but he's had a couple of niggles and we just didn't think it was a smart move to play him. He should be available to play next week."

Salford boss Richard Marshall:

"It's a tough one. There were moments we were really pleased about. At times our defence was really good and we had that Salford never-say-die attitude.

"They had a couple of late scores which didn't reflect our true efforts. There were a few individual errors which cost us as well. And we didn't capitalise on our try.

"The game was in the balance at that point and, if we had been a bit more resilient with the ball and more disciplined, it might have been different.

"It's a new team and we were a bit rusty. It will take time for us to gel. Losing to St Helens won't define our season."

St Helens: Welsby; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Fages, Lomax; Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Thompson, Bentley, Mata'utia.

Interchange: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Paasi, Smith.

Salford: Sarginson, Sio, Watkins, Kear,Inu, Lolohea, Brown, Mossop, Addy, Ikahihifo, Livett, Lannon, Taylor.

Interchange: Pauli, Ormanroyd, Wells, Patton.

Referee: Liam Moore.

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