Walsh leads Saints to Super League semis

Former Penrith Panther Luke Walsh put on a kicking masterclass as he booted reigning Super League champions St Helens into the semi-finals with a 42-38 win over Castleford.

Walsh kicked seven out of seven as St Helens edged a 13-try thriller with left winger Adam Swift scoring a hat-trick of tries.

There was little hint of the drama to come when Saints raced into an 18-0 lead with three tries in eight minutes, with Josh Jones having a hand in all three.

The rugby union-bound centre swooped on a handling error by Ashley Gibson to get Swift over for his first try after six minutes and combined with the skilful Jon Wilkin to work the winger for his second.

Jones then produced an arcing run to send fellow centre Mark Percival over with a superb inside ball and Walsh kicked his third conversion.

It might have been 24-0 for Wilkin had a try disallowed by the video referees midway through the first half and that might have been a crucial call as Castleford full-back Luke Dorn came into his own.

The former London Broncos player accepted an offload from scrum-half Luke Gale and sidestepped his opposite number Adam Quinlan to begin the Tigers’ fightback after 22 minutes.

He went over for a solo try six minutes later and, after Saints failed to finish off two more scoring opportunities, Castleford brought the scores level five minutes before the break when stand-off Ben Roberts took full advantage of some shoddy defending to go over for a third try, to which Gale added a third goal.

The home side would have been ahead by half-time had Roberts not put a drop-goal attempt wide but it took them only five minutes of the second half to hit the front for the first time.

Saints were looking threatening but Walsh’s kick went straight into the grateful arms of centre Mike McMeeken and, although he was halted after a thrilling 50-metre gallop, Roberts was in support to catch out an unsuspecting Saints defence by taking the offload to sprint the rest of the way for his second try.

Gale’s fourth conversion put the home side into a 24-18 lead but that was as good as it for them.

Percival went over for his second try after prop Alex Walmsley had been held up over the line and Walsh tied the scores for a second time.

Gale’s 40-metre penalty briefly restored Castleford’s lead but Roberts’ error from the re-start gifted the visitors possession near their line and they made the most of it by scoring two further tries in four minutes through full-back Quinlan and winger Tom Makinson, the first a controversial effort in which there appeared to be an obstruction.

Walsh maintained his unerring accuracy with both conversions to extend his side’s lead to 36-26, although winger Denny Solomona’s try after 65 minutes kept the Tigers in the hunt.

The outcome was finally settled three minutes later when Swift got Wilkin racing into a gap deep inside the Saints half and followed up upfield before taking a return pass to complete his hat-trick, which rendered second rower Junior Moors’ late effort for the home side nothing more than consolation.

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