Saints will look to improve on recent performances when they travel to Odsal to face Bradford Bulls on Saturday (February 23 kick-off 3.00pm).
Stephen Orford reports for RedVee.Net
Full-back options do not exactly leap to mind when you look around the rest of the squad……
Saints will look to improve on recent performances when they travel to Odsal to face Bradford Bulls on Saturday (February 23 kick-off 2.00pm).
It's been an underwhelming start to 2013 for Nathan Brown's men, with an opening day home drubbing by Huddersfield Giants followed by a gritty but unspectacular 16-4 win at Widnes Vikings. Last time out they failed to hold on to a 10-point lead in the final quarter at home to Hull FC, but did at least manage to avoid defeat in clinging on for a 22-22 draw.
Now it is back to the scene of one of the lows of 2012. Royce Simmons took an out of sorts Saints outfit to West Yorkshire in March last year, oversaw a quite lamentable 12-8 loss (Saints second try coming in the final seconds when the game had already gone) and paid for it with his job. With some justification some thought the dismissal rash, given that Simmons had led the side to the Grand Final just five months earlier in his first full season with the club. Nevertheless, the interim coaching duo of Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham steadied the ship and it was only at the last hurdle that Saints failed to make a seventh consecutive Old Trafford appearance.
Saints travel without four of their senior squad for this one. Paul Clough has been missing all season so far, while Lance Hohaia and Josh Perry missed the visit of Hull FC having picked up knocks in the win at the Stobart Stadium. None are fit to return and they are joined on the sidelines by Paul Wellens who looks set to miss a month of action with a calf injury picked up against Hull. Full-back options do not exactly leap to mind when you look around the rest of the squad, particularly in the continued absence of Hohaia, so Brown may have to trust someone who is relatively untried in the position. Tommy Makinson could switch from the wing to allow Ade Gardner to make a first appearance of the season, or Jonny Lomax could move from his regular position of scrum-half. Someone will sink or swim here, but let's be optimistic and remember that Wellens himself was moved to the position by Ian Millward over a decade ago when he had to that point been plying his trade rather less successfully in the halves.
Up front the loss of Perry is off-set by the emergence of Alex Walmsley and Joe Greenwood. Walmsley impressed on debut against Hull last week, and although there were one or two mistakes from the big man signed from Batley in the off-season he looks a genuine prospect and someone who could at last add a bit of a fear factor to the Saints pack. Greenwood looked a little shakier but certainly has presence, and is likely to get another chance to shine from the bench.
Bradford's main concern is the absence of John Batemen and Luke Gale. Both required surgery in the winter and have yet to regain fitness for this campaign. However, Adam Sidlow's arrival from Salford has boosted the pack, which also contains Elliot Whitehead, Manase Manuokafoa, Matt Diskin and the evergreen Jamie Langley among others. In the backs Matty Blythe has been a good addition on loan from Warrington, while Saints will also need to be wary of Brett Kearney (whose hat-trick of tries proved the difference in the Bulls 38-12 win over Castleford last week), Keith Lulia at centre and the unpredictable but often brilliant Jarrod Sammut. Let us not forget also, that Jamie Foster, a man whose mistakes in that corresponding fixture last March arguably cost him his Saints career, can now be found in the Bradford ranks. While some Saints may shrug off any fears about his match-winning potential with the ball in hand they will still do well to note that he is one of the most consistent goal-kickers in the competition.
The win over Castleford was Bradford's second of the season having beaten Wakefield comfortably on the opening day, before suffering a 28-12 defeat at Hull FC in a game which was delayed by a couple of days following travel problems on the original date.
Traditionally in the Super League era Bradford versus Saints has been one of the glamour ties of the competition. While both have undoubtedly seen better days than they are currently expderiencing, this one should be no less hard fought than any of the others. Saints' record at Odsal is not spectacular, but overall they have 25 wins to Bradford's 21 in the fixture (including play-offs and two Grand Finals) and, it should be remembered, avenged that defeat at Odsal in March with a 54-0 hammering of the Bulls when they came to Langtree Park in June.
This one looks set to be a little closer than that and predicting the outcome of any Saints match at the moment is folly in any case. Regardless, I'm going to have a go and suggest that Saints might just edge it by six.
2. Ade Gardner, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Sia Soliola, 5. Francis Meli, 7. Jonny Lomax, 9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Willie Manu, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 15. Mark Flanagan, 17. Gary Wheeler, 19. Josh Jones, 20. Lee Gaskell, 21. Tommy Makinson, 24. Joe Greenwood, 25. Alex Walmsley, 27. Anthony Walker.
1. Brett Kearney, 3. Keith Lulia, 4. Matty Blythe, 5. Elliot Kear, 6. Jarrod Sammut, 8. Nick Scruton, 9. Heath L'Estrange, 10. Manase Manuokafoa, 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Jamie Langley, 14. Matt Diskin, 15. Chev Walker, 16. Tom Olbison, 17. Jamie Foster, 19. Danny Addy, 20. Adam O'Brien, 21. James Donaldson, 22. Jobe Murphy, 27. Adam Sidlow.
Referee: Tim Roby
Catch up with more from Stephen Orford at www.steorfordonsaints.blogspot.com.