James Roby made Castleford pay for his Super League Dream Team omission with a superb man-of-the-match performance that keeps St Helens on course for a place in the Grand Final.
Castleford’s rising star Daryl Clark got the nod for the hooking role in the Dream Team ahead of the England regular, who demonstrated all his old skill with two early tries and an all-round industrious display to which Castleford had no answer.
It was routine for Saints, who were presented with the League Leaders’ Shield before kick-off, as they moved effortlessly to within 80 minutes of a return to Old Trafford with a clinical 41-0 victory at Langtree Park.
St Helens’ seven-try triumph – in which Dream Team winger Tom Makinson scored on his 100th appearance – earned them next week off and they will also get the chance to select their home semi-final opponents via the controversial ClubCall system.
Castleford, who missed the chance to pip Saints to top spot by losing to Catalan Dragons in their final league game, will have another chance to reach the last four in next week’s elimination semi-finals but – like Huddersfield after the first qualifying play-off – will need to find a vastly improvement if they are get back on course for a maiden Grand Final appearance.
Tigers coach Daryl Powell responded to their mini-slump by dropping stand-off Marc Sneyd, one of the stars of the season, in favour of Jamie Ellis while Australian winger Justin Carney made an unexpected return in place of the injured James Clare.
Saints coach Nathan Brown also sprung a surprise by switching second rower Mark Flanagan to scrum-half.
He acquitted himself well but it was Roby who the star of the show.
Clark began the match on the bench – with Adam Milner preferred as the Tigers’ starting hooker – and entered the action midway through the first half moments after Roby had broken the deadlock by forcing his way over for the game’s first try.
Five minutes later Roby repeated the feat, this time from 10 metres out, and Mark Percival kicked his second conversion to make it 12-0.
Saints let slip a 10-0 lead in their last match but they soaked up Castleford pressure to keep their line intact up to the break and increased their advantage of the stroke of half-time with a drop goal from Jordan Turner.
Any hope of a Castleford fightback was snuffed out within five minutes of the restart when Roby worked a run-around with Sia Soliola to free Turner, who sprinted 50 metres for Saints’ third try.
Roby then became trysaver when he managed to get his leg in the way to prevent Castleford centre Michael Channing touching down after a rare breach of the Saints defence.
Trailing 19-0, the visitors were forced to chance their arm and it cost them another try when St Helens winger Adam Swift, a replacement for the injured Matty Dawson, picked up a loose ball and went 70 metres for a solo score.
The home side were denied a penalty try when skipper Paul Wellens was pulled back while chasing Roby’s grubber kick to the line but Castleford captain Michael Shenton was sin-binned for the offence and Saints took advantage of the extra man to increase their lead.
Makinson took Percival’s pass to cross at the corner and, as the Tigers began to tire, front-row forwards Kyle Amor and Mose Masoe both demonstrated brute strength to force their way over for close-range tries and extend the hosts’ advantage.
Percival took his goal tally to six from seven attempts to wrap up a convincing victory for Nathan Brown’s men.
St Helens: Wellens, Makinson, Percival, Wheeler, Swift, Hohaia, Flanagan, Amor, Roby, Richards, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Thompson, Turner. Subs (all used): Masoe, Soliola, Manu, Laffranchi.
Castleford: Dorn, Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Carney, Ellis, Finn, Lynch, Milner, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Subs: Massey, Clark, Wheeldon, Channing.
Referee: James Child (RFL).