Big-spending Salford were given a reality check as St Helens maintained their perfect start to the 2014 First Utility Super League with a 38-0 rout at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Back-to-back wins in their opening two games had given Marwan Koukash’s expensively-assembled team a chance to go top of the table for the first time in the summer era but their hopes were dashed inside 10 minutes.
It was fairly routine for Saints as Australian scrum-half Luke Walsh followed up his 18-point haul on debut a fortnight earlier with another 18 from seven goals and one of his side’s six tries.
Walsh found himself with a new half-back partner in Lance Hohaia, who was drafted in for his first appearance of the season after Gary Wheeler’s injury curse struck again but the former Kiwi international slotted into a slick-looking Saints side with ease.
The watching Ryan Giggs, once a budding rugby league player who is wanted by Koukash to become an ambassador for his Red Devils, no doubt appreciated the class of the visitors, who took over at the top of the table.
The kick-off was delayed for the second successive match due to traffic congestion and Saints were quick to make up for lost time, with two tries in the first 10 minutes.
Walsh’s 50-metre break relieved pressure on his own line after winger Adam Swift’s early fumble and second rower Willie Manu also went through a half-hearted Salford defence to put the visitors into a strong attacking position.
Saints capitalised thanks to Walsh’s short pass which got prop Kyle Amor into space and his offload was snapped up Jon Wilkin, who finished off superbly for the game’s first try.
A break from lively right winger Tom Makinson then created a try for Walsh, who pounced on his well-struck kick to touch down.
Walsh’s second conversion made it 12-0 and left Salford staring at a heavy defeat but the introduction of evergreen captain Adrian Morley stiffened up their defence.
A 40-20 kick from Wilkin gave his side another sniff at the Devils’ line but they were held at bay for the rest of the first half.
Makinson got over after collecting Walsh’s grubber kick but slow-motion replays showed he lost control of the ball while Salford’s best tryscoring opportunity came when second rower Gareth Hock burst through the visitors’ first line of defence only for winger Danny Williams denied by Saints’ scramble.
Hock was then prominent as the Red Devils stepped up the pace at the start of the second half but there was no way back once Saints scored a breakaway third try on 50 minutes.
Tim Smith’s kick on the last tackle bounced kindly for St Helens substitute Sioa Soliola and he went 40 metres upfield before releasing centre Mark Percival, who took a return pass from Swift to finish off a glorious move.
Walsh added the goal and was also on target when Amor plunged over for a fourth try following a strong burst from fellow front rower Alex Walmsley.
As the Saints fans chanted “what a waste of money”, Walsh increased his side’s lead with a 63rd-minute penalty and Salford’s misery was compounded by the loss of Hock with an ankle injury 15 minutes from the end.
The visitors then piled on the agony for Koukash when front-row replacement Anthony Laffranchi crashed over for Saints’ fifth try before Percival sprinted 40 metres for his second, with Walsh maintaining his 100% record with the boot when his kick went in off an upright.