The Agony Of Hope
It’s the hope that kills you. Either that or horse meat, sleep or whatever else causes deadly disease according to this week’s scientific blather. Either way you’re going and it’s just a question of when. Which is a pretty big question when applied to the life expectancy of Saints’ 2017 playoff hopes. Perhaps it would have been kinder on all of us if Justin Holbrook’s travel sick troupe would have transferred their dismal away form to their Totally Wicked home for the visit of Lee Radford’s Hull FC side. Saints have lost on the road to everyone recently including Leeds, Huddersfield and the cast of a secondary school production of West Side Story. Yet in winning here, deservedly it should be said, they have prolongued our suffering. We’re left here in an agonising limbo, waiting for the final savage blow. Like the vole that my cat Padme dragged into the house the other day. She toyed with it for what seemed like months, torturing it with the hope that it might just get out of the whole sorry mess alive before finishing it off. A similar fate awaits us at Wakefield.
But for now we are breathing. Defeat to the black and whites would have left us eight points behind them with only nine games to play before the semi-finals. As it is there are now only four points between the sides who will meet for a fourth time in the Super 8s. Salford’s loss to Leeds today (Sunday) keeps them within mathematical peeing distance also. A fairly routine home date with a Catalans Dragons side reeling from the appointment of Steve McNamara as Head Coach awaits, so if we can avoid being pounced on by the former Wildcats in the final week of the regular season then it’s all on. Oh Hope, what are you doing to us?
Percy Makes Amends
The view expressed last week in this column that Mark Percival makes some ordinary decisions and runs sideways a little too often was not universally popular. Some nerves can’t be touched, perceived truths must not be challenged. It’s heresy when your audience is made up almost entirely of Saints fans. Almost. Apparently there is one London Broncos fan who logs on every week to see if I’m still doing the same LMS joke. The point is that suggesting that Mark Percival is anything other than the best English centre since that nice blond boy who turned to the dark side is a risky policy. People won’t have it. It’s like trying to convince people that Wayne Rooney’s move back to Goodison Park is a cynical attempt to exploit Evertonian emotions. I mean how could you even say that?
Percival was on his way to more outrageous and unfounded criticism on these pages when, with Saints leading 14-6 in the second half, he wildly flapped at Marc Sneyd’s hopeful high kick to allow Mahe Fonua to cross and bring FC back into the game. In fairness it was arguably Regan Grace’s ball but, being the senior partner, Percival took responsibility. It was a botch-up whichever way you look at it. But those wondering whether Grace’s diminutive frame and apparent unwillingness to jump might represent a defensive weakness going forward might want to consider whether Adam Swift would have diffused the situation.
Unlike Swift, Percival had a plan to redeem himself which involved quite the most audacious piece of genius finishing seen on Merseyside since Rooney was originally a blue. Following up Theo Fages’ hopeful chip close to the line Lord Percy leaped above the nuggets of purest green in the Hull ranks, flipped the ball up over Carlos Tuimavave before regathering and balletically plonking the ball down inside the whitewash. As much as Phil Bentham wished it wasn’t so the video evidence confirmed that it was indisputably a try. Percy had walked back into the light, never to be bad-mouthed by wordy chancers again. Until next week.
It Shouldn’t Have Come To That
Before those selfless heroics from Percival Saints should have been out of sight. They were by far the better side, as referenced by Radford who admitted that his side would have ‘stolen’ the points had they won with their display. Failure to take the chances on offer, especially early in the game, could have proved costlier than a moody Belgian striker.
Luke Thompson enjoyed one of his most assured performances in a Saints shirt, with 129 metres on 14 carries and 26 tackles. Starting at prop instead of the still mystifyingly reserved Alex Walmsley Thompson perhaps came of age. Yet he still should have found Fages with a simple offload close to the line in that by now obligatory and frustrating scoreless first quarter. The Frenchman would have walked in, as might Grace had Fages not harpooned another easy-looking pass way over the winger’s head soon after.
Then there was Dominique Peyroux, admirably filling in at second row for the suspended skipper Jon Wilkin and rather embarrassing his absent colleague to the tune of 112 metres on 11 carries and 40 tackles. Yet the rarely sighted former New Zealand Warrior still couldn’t manage to ground the ball as he slid over following a highly uncharacteristic but nonetheless searing break. In the wet conditions he might have been wise to dive early, but chose instead to carry on running in the manner of a long distance runner who hasn’t heard the bell. Somehow the ball came out and another six points disappeared inexplicably like the characters and plot in The Leftovers. Saints must be more clinical.
Wilkin Should Not Displace Richardson
If Wilkin is to come back into the side for the visit of the Dragons next week it should only be at the expense of Peyroux. If balance would allow then some ungrateful souls would no doubt nominate Zeb Taia. The former Dragon endured another error prone night (although he did lead all Saints in metres made with a Walmsley-dwarfing 172) and appears to suffer from some concentration issues at times. Sometimes you get the feeling it’s all done on auto-pilot with Taia, like Ron Burgundy sticking to the autocue no matter what it reads. But he remains our most creative forward and dropping him for three handling errors in a team total of 18 on a rainy night seems a bit like throwing your telly out of the window because it repeatedly fails to iron your pants.
The point that is staggering its languorous way towards this punch drunk prose is that Holbrook should resist the temptation to slot Wilkin back in at scrum half. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do that. Like fending off a desire to consume your own liquid waste one might say. But with Matty Smith’s eye injury likely to keep him out for some time yet there might be a little hankering in Holbrook’s mind to go with experîence over new boy Danny Richardson. Yet the youngster showed great composure all night, particularly when landing the drop goal that ultimately sealed this win. He deserves and needs a run of games alongside Fages in the absence of Smith. If you’re still not convinced consider this. Peyroux’s solid performance came hot on the heels of another top effort at Leeds. What are the chances of three in a row?
Silverware At Last
Saints came into this one with a commanding lead in the contest for the Steve Prescott Cup. The trophy has been played for annually by the great man’s two former clubs since his death in 2013 and is decided on aggregate score across all regular season meetings. The vagaries of a series of clandestine RFL Operational meetings have decreed that there are three such meetings in 2017 and so Saints’ 45-0 thrashing of FC in Newcastle in May gave them a 55-24 lead coming in after Hull’s 24-10 win at the KCom in March.
Ok so it was never really in doubt but in this season which is surely soon to be extricated of all hope it is something to shout about. And if celebrating the winning of a trophy that is only ever contested by two parties is acceptable in rowing and general elections then why not in rugby league? So break out the Pimms and do a deal with the DUP. After all, we won’t be at Old Trafford this year. Will we?
Oh do bugger off Hope before I take out a reatraining order.