St Helens overcome Barba’s absence to see off Hull and pull six points clear

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St Helens overcame the absence of talismanic full-back Ben Barba to make it nine wins out of 10 and pull six points clear at the top of the Betfred Super League.

The mercurial Australian, who scored 10 tries in his first nine games of the season, pulled out of Friday’s game with a virus but Saints still had too much craft for Hull as they carved out a 26-12 victory.

St Helens had a handy replacement in England international Jonny Lomax while Theo Fages slotted in comfortably at stand-off and it provided more game time for veteran half-back Matty Smith, albeit as a makeshift hooker.

The only disappointment for Saints as they completed a clean sweep of their three Easter fixtures was the loss of influential skipper James Roby to injury after 50 minutes.

There was also disappointment for Hull skipper and hooker Danny Houghton on his 300th appearance as his side’s three-match winning run was brought to a halt.

Saints made the brighter start and scored the only try of the first half after just seven minutes, second rower Zeb Taia showing great athleticism to pluck the ball out of the air from Fages’ lofted kick.

Danny Richardson added the goal to make it 6-0 but Hull gradually came more into the game and ought to have been at least level by half-time.

Centre Josh Griffin had a try disallowed for offside and second rower Jordan Lane dropped the ball over the line.

The misses began to look costly when Saints increased their lead within two minutes of the restart.

Hull winger Jack Logan, deputising for the suspended Bureta Faraimo, put his side under pressure by dropping the ball from Fages’ kick and in the next set Fages and Lomax combined to get centre Mark Percival striding through a gap for his 10th try of the season.

Richardson kicked his second conversion and added a penalty after 49 minutes to stretch his side’s lead to 14-0 and the game should have been over shortly afterwards when left winger Regan Grace spilled Fages’ pass with the line at his mercy.

The penalty began to assume greater significance when Hull pulled a try back after 56 minutes in controversial fashion.

Hull centre Jake Connor was quick to react after pouncing on a handling error by Percival, freeing Logan down the right wing and stand-off Albert Kelly was in support on his inside to finish off despite a clear hint of a forward pass.

Marc Sneyd, on his 100th appearance, added the conversion to trim Saints’ lead to eight points but it was only delayed the inevitable.

Impressive St Helens prop Luke Thompson had a try ruled out for a knock-on but there was no denying Taia as he charged onto Fages’ pass to cross over for his second score after 67 minutes.

Thompson then received his due reward when he took Smith’s pass to barge his way to the line for his side’s fourth try to pile on the agony for Hull, who at least had the final say when Jordan Abdul squeezed a pass out of the tackle to get his fellow substitute Chris Green over for a consolation try.

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