Saints will bid to hold together their creaking season when they take on Hull FC in a BetFred Super League Round 14 Magic Weekend clash at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on Saturday (May 20, kick-off 4.45pm).
Morale is low at Saints right now after last week’s embarrassing 53-10 Challenge Cup defeat at Castleford Tigers which all but ended hopes of silverware in 2017. Now the side, watched live for the first time by new Head Coach Justin Holbrook this week, face a fight to get into the top eight by the end of Round 23, and so preserve their Super League status without the need for a visit to the Middle Eight Qualifiers.
The word is that Holbrook has been advising interim coaches Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor this week and that he has had more than a hand in the decision to stick with the same 19 players that were selected for the Castleford game. This has irked some fans who argue that a performance like the one we saw at the Men-A-Hose Jungle should necessitate some changes to the personnel for the next game. Yet it looks like it will be exactly the same 17 which surrendered so meekly at Castleford which will be charged with putting it right against a handy Hull FC side.
Jonny Lomax is still another couple of weeks away from full fitness and so Tommy Makinson should continue at full-back on the occasion of his 150th appearance for the club. He’ll sit behind a three-quarter line of Adam Swift, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival and Regan Grace, with Theo Fages and Matty Smith badly needing to up their game in the halves. Matty Fleming’s move on loan to Leigh Centurions has taken away any competition for Morgan’s place which appeared genuine earlier in the season. The Australian centre has upped his game a little since then but is still some way short of convincing as an automatic choice, particularly given some his erratic defensive decisions. Yet with Fleming gone the shirt appears his for the foreseeable future.
In the pack Alex Walmsley and James Roby lead the way in the front row, with Luke Douglas a likely starter to leave Kyle Amor, and Greg Richards competing for game time from the bench. Zeb Taia has the left second row spot locked down despite criticism of his recent form, while on the other side Jon Wilkin still looks the best option with either Morgan Knowles or Luke Thompson at 13. Wilkin was only fit enough for a place on the bench in the defeat to Castleford after missing the previous week’s trip to Warrington, but if fit will be a starter here. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Dominique Peyroux and Tommy Lee will all hope for a place on the bench, though if the 17 remains unchanged as has been suggested the latter pair will miss out.
Lee Radford’s FC side will be without Mahe Fonua and Gareth Ellis as well as Jake Connor but otherwise have a formidable squad available. Jamie Shaul has been unfortunate to miss out on England selection recently while in Carlos Tuimavave, Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd the black and whites have match winners in key skill positions. The pack is handy too, with reigning Man Of Steel Danny Houghton now back after an injury absence and joined by England squad member Scott Taylor, Liam Watts, Mark Minichiello and Sika Manu who returns from a two-match suspension.
The sides have already met once in Super League this season when FC recorded a 24-14 victory in early March. Kelly was key to that effort and will no doubt be so again if Radford’s side are to get the win that would see them keep pace with the league-leading Tigers. FC currently sit second, a point behind Daryl Powell’s side who face a testing Magic Weekend appointment with a much improved Leeds Rhinos side.
The respective form of these sides makes it very difficult to see a Saints victory. Yet the same was true when they hosted Castleford on Easter Monday and won, and arguably when they claimed victory over Catalans Dragons and Warrington on consecutive weeks at the end of March. This is a team which lacks consistency and has problems all over the place, but also one that can raise its game and spring a surprise every now and then. It should also be motivated, with Holbrook keeping a watchful eye on them for the first time in the flesh, and perhaps having one or two words to say in the dressing room.
Saints will want to improve their record at the Magic Weekend, having lost four of their last five at the event, including last year’s humbling 48-20 thrashing by a Huddersfield Giants side which finished the regular season rock bottom before recovering well enough to make it through the Middle Eight Qualifiers. It’s a big ask against a quality FC outfit.
- Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Morgan Knowles, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia
- Jamie Shaul, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Fetuli Talanoa, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Liam Watts, 12. Mark Minichiello, 15. Chris Green, 16. Jordan Thompson, 17. Daniel Washbrook, 19. Steven Michaels, 21. Sika Manu, 22. Josh Bowden, 25. Jansin Turgut, 27. Jack Downs, 28. Brad Fash
Referee: Robert Hicks