A Different Kind Of Win
All season long this column has lamented the weakness in Saints attack. It’s had all the balance of Madonna at the 2015 Brit Awards, with right-sided backs Ryan Morgan and Tommy Makinson lucky at times not to be charged for entry into the stadium. What was pulling Saints through – at home at least – was their defensive record. Only runaway league leaders Castleford have a better defence than Saints in 2017 in terms of points conceded.
Today’s 46-28 win over Catalans Dragons was different. Saints’ normally resolute rearguard deserted them. They conceded five tries to a Dragons side which, despite including a fair smattering of star names, is nevertheless a team that will be spending August and September fighting for its Super League life in the Qualifiers. Assuming the terrified governors of the game don’t change the rules to guard against an outcome which for them would no doubt be viewed as apocalyptic.
So it was left to Saints’ normally tepid attack to haul the team out of trouble. And yes, even that right side got in on the act as Morgan first stepped beautifully away from the cover to put Jonny Lomax over and then rounded off the scoring with Saints’ seventh try when he latched on to James Roby’s improvised grubber. Other highlights included Alex Walmsley’s half-the-length effort during which he resembled a bus in a Keanu Reeves movie, unable to slow down and just mowing down everything in his path, and Danny Richardson’s exquisite inside ball which sent Luke Thompson crashing over.
Do Saints Miss Luke Walsh?
Since Matty Smith replaced Luke Walsh as Saints’ scrum-half at the end of 2016 many might have been looking forward to the latter’s return to St Helens and an opportunity to see how the two compare head-to-head. Unfortunately Smith’s terrible eye injury at Leeds scuppered any chance of that happening, with Richardson coming in to replace the ex-Wigan man. Richardson showed some nice touches and is still learning having started only three or four games at this level, but there is no doubt as to who the best halfback on the field was in this one.
Walsh was involved in three of Catalans’ tries, scoring one himself though any number of Saints defenders could and should have stopped him from wriggling over. He created the other two with the boot, first for Justin Horo and then for Tony Gigot as the Dragons kept it close for 70 minutes. Walsh also kicked a further eight points although he was outshone in that department by Mark Percival whose nine goals and late try gave him a personal tally of 22 points. Yet the feeling remains that had Walsh still been wearing the red vee he would have enjoyed the proverbial field day, especially with Percival, Roby, Walmsley and Morgan running off him in this kind of fluent, destructive form.
Is Matty Lees Not Ready
Perhaps the only surprise in Justin Holbrook’s team selection for this clash with Steve McNamara’s side was the absence of Kyle Amor from the match day 17. The former Wakefield man has an apparent hamstring injury but not one thought to be serious enough to keep him out of the visit to his old club next weekend. Under 19s front rower Matty Lees was named in the initial 19-man selection by Holbrook on Wednesday (July 12) and so seemed a choice as obvious as the wig on Donald Trump’s head. Yet he was not included, with Holbrook opting instead to use Thompson and unremarkable Aussie plodder Luke Douglas at prop from the start with Walmsley and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook mucking in off the bench.
With Adam Walker now at Wakefield and Greg Richards spending most of his playing time on dual registration with Sheffield Eagles Lees should be the next cab off the rank should anything happen to any of Walmsley, Amor, Thompson or Douglas. His non-selection here is a strong indicator that Holbrook doesn’t feel he is quite ready to make the step up. Physically the transition from under 19s to Super League at prop is perhaps more difficult than that which has been smoothly negotiated by Regan Grace on the wing. Lees’ inclusion in the initial selection may just be Holbrook’s way of integrating Lees into the first team environment and of boosting his confidence. If that is so, and if he isn’t quite ready to mix it in the big league it does seem to leave Saints a bit short in that area given the underwhelming performances of Douglas and the fact that Thompson is only now beginning to find the sort of form he has long been thought capable of.
Another Chance For Swift?
Makinson has moved back to the wing since Lomax returned at fullback and Morgan at centre which has resulted in the omission from the side of Adam Swift. Yet when Grace was injured in failing to stop Horo from scoring his second try of the afternoon for the Dragons it perhaps offered Swift an opportunity. Grace was withdrawn from the action shortly after, a fair indication that there is now a doubt about his fitness going into next weekend’s final game of the regular season at Trinity.
Swift needs to take this opportunity if it comes. There were those who felt that Grace would be fed in and out of the side as his inexperience could be preyed upon, but Holbrook has so far shown no appetite for that. Grace has been left to learn on the job. To have any hope of ousting Grace or Makinson in the long term Swift needs to cut out the errors that have plagued his game in recent times, particularly when asked to bring the ball away from his own line early in a set. Should he fail he might consider that, despite signing a new two-year deal with the club earlier this season, his talents are considerable enough to warrant a regular first team place elsewhere in Super League. His loss would be a significant one as few clubs can boast a back-up winger of his quality.
Calling For No Help
This being the last home game of the regular season I hope you can forgive the flagrant abuse of my position as a columnist on these pages that follows. If you see me pushing my chair over the Steve Prescott Bridge after the game then by all means, offer to help. I’ll politely decline although I can certainly see why so many people do it. At my age, and with what passed for my sporting career now far behind me, I do have a tendancy to make the uphill climb from Tesco look difficult. But trust me, I’m fine. It has long baffled me how able bodied people come to the conclusion that they are in a better position than I am in the field of pushing wheelchairs over bridges. I have some years of experience.
So please when you see me, by all means come over and say hello. Chat about the game. We’ll go for a pint and I’ll pay. Offer to help if you like but don’t be alarmed or offended when I decline. And please, whatever you do, don’t be one of those people who cut out the middle man that is asking if I need help and just put their hands on me anyway. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is an inappropriate action for you to take but if you need clarification, try thinking of me as a stunning twentysomething brunette and ask yourself whether you would put your hands on her as she made her way back to her car from the ground.
I know. That’s quite hard to imagine.