St Helens finally got their hands on the League Leaders’ Shield – as chairman Eamonn McManus launched a remarkable attack on the Challenge Cup final refereeing.
McManus used his programme notes before Saints’ 4-0 win over Castleford on Friday night to question the performance of Robert Hicks in the defeat to Warrington, after he didn’t use the video referee for an early try claim by Morgan Knowles.
Hicks had previously met with Wolves chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick and a Wolves fan that had issued a death threat against him on social media.
McManus wrote: “How a referee can be involved in a publicity stunt with the CEO of a participating club in the week before a Challenge Cup final defies belief and reason.
“This apparently resulted from some pathetic spat in the open sewer that is Twitter some weeks before.
“The fact referees go, and are allowed to go, on Twitter with fans is utterly beyond me – no good can come from it and clear no good does.
“Resultingly, the perception of officiating impartiality was destroyed even before kick-off.
“This was amply consolidated, in the eyes of many, in reality when Hicks incomprehensibly did not go to the video referee for Morgan Knowles’ clear and legitimate opening try and followed it up shortly with other highly questionable decisions.”
McManus’ comments overshadowed a forgettable match on the field and are likely to attract attention from the sport’s governing bodies.
They also brought criticism from Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney after the win over Castleford.
Carney said: “The words are very considered and it’s a very well written piece.
“But unfortunately it’s a diatribe against referees and in particular the decisions that went against them in the Challenge Cup Final.
“And what I would say to a man like Eamonn, who does know better and should know better is that you’re only adding to the bile that’s heaped on referees.
“You should be aware of the trickle-down effect of that, Eamonn, and I would say a piece like that on a night like this is a disappointment.”
Saints have been assured of the League Leaders’ Shield for several weeks and are firmly on track to finish further in front than any team in the history of the sport.
Their lead at the top is now 18 points – with the record margin being 15 by Wigan in the 1986/87 season.
But just six days after their Wembley heartache, Justin Holbrook’s side failed to hit the heights of the majority of their campaign, with the dogged Tigers refusing the buckle as they tried to keep their top five hopes alive.
The only try of the game came in the 32nd minute when smart work from James Roby and Mark Percival allowed Regan Grace to finish out wide.
Daryl Powell’s Cas threw plenty at the home defence in the second half but they stood firm to record a 24th win from 27th matches.
But their season will still be measured on whether they can convert that to Grand Final success.