The Saints are back on the road again for the next two weeks (Coronavirus permitting) – firstly against high flying Castleford Tigers this Sunday – and both sides will be looking to bounce back following narrow defeats against Huddersfield and Warrington, respectively.
Friday’s loss at home to Huddersfield ended an unbeaten run in league games dating back to 2018 and there’s no doubt it was a very disappointing result and performance. Defensively we were once again strong as Huddersfield very rarely looked like scoring. Their 1st try came from an error at a kick and the 2nd try was a poor missed tackle which should’ve been made. Offensively though, we were miles away from where we needed to be. We created several chances but spurned them and got hit late in the game. Kevin Naiqama failed to pass to Tommy Makinson with the line open after making a break on the right-hand edge and Matty Costello somehow failed to ground the ball and dropped it as he was crossing the try line. There was also a very dubious try ruled out for obstruction when Lomax touched down after allegedly obstructing Jordan Turner. After viewing it again on the highlights it was a very harsh call and, on another day, would’ve been given.
It was a very frustrating night as it was a game we should’ve won. We had another scoreless half in the 2nd half and the attacking patterns we are showing are a slight concern. Given the injuries to our backline and the fact we are so early into the season, you have to give the benefit of doubt to Woolf, but it’s definitely an area that we are not quite hitting the mark at the moment. Is there a World Club Challenge hangover? Evidence from previous years would suggest there is. Hopefully Coote’s return will help improve our attack, but collectively there needs to be an improvement across the board – The forwards need to try to look to offload the ball more, there needs to be a better link between the forwards and the backs and there needs to be more variation in our offence than there currently is. Whilst it is not Cunningham-esque era levels of performances, it is not at the levels of last season either. Hopefully we’ll start to see some improvements over the next few weeks and the doubters will quieten down.
Castleford currently lie in 3rd place in the table having won 4 and lost 2 of their opening six fixtures. Their only defeats have come against Catalans and the narrow 9-8 loss at Warrington last week. Their most impressive win was their 16-12 win against Wigan in round two when they an injury hit Castleford came away with an impressive result against the much-fancied Wigan side.
Cas have been in and around the top 4 or 5 spots for several years now and they should be thereabouts again this year. They play an open brand of rugby which is exciting for the fans, but they also have an aggressive pack too, which makes them difficult to play against.
The new half back partnership of Jake Trueman and ex Saint Danny Richardson is an exciting combination and there’s no doubt Richardson has been eyeing this clash since the fixtures came out in November last year. Some believe Richardson was harshly treated at Saints and should still be our number 7 now, whereas others believe it was the correct decision to cash in on a player that barely featured in 2019. Whether it was a mistake to let him go remains to be seen, but there will definitely be extra motivation for him on Sunday.
21 Man Squads
Jordan Rankin, Darrell Olpherts, Peter Mata’utia, Michael Shenton, Jake Trueman, Danny Richardson, Liam Watts, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Mike McMeekan, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey, Jesse Sene-Lefao, George Griffin, Alex Foster, Cheyse Blair, Daniel Smith, James Clare, Jacques O’Neill, Tyla Hepi, Bailey Hodgson.
Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Joseph Paolo, Aaron Smith, Matty Costello, Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd.
Saints welcome back Aaron Smith and Lachlan Coote to the side and it is arguably our strongest 21 man squad of the season. Lewis Dodd is likely to miss out as is Jack Ashworth but there will be some tough decisions after that. The Centre spot is up for grabs and we expect Jack Welsby to slot in. The other forwards bench spot is more difficult. I would go for Amor, but Woolf has favoured Paolo this season.
Referee – L. Moore
Kick Off – Sunday 15th March, 3.30pm
Venue – Mend-A-Hose Jungle, Castleford
Showers are expected for Sunday once again with temperatures expected to be around the 9 degrees mark.
Head to Head
Last 6 games – Saints 6 wins, Castleford 0 wins.
Last meeting – St Helens 4 – 0 Castleford, Totally Wicked Stadium, Att. 10,315.
The Saints have an outstanding record against Castleford having won the last 7. The last defeat came back in 2017 in a dramatic 23-22 defeat at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle in the Play Offs. Since then, the Saints have enjoyed a great run of victories against Cas, including a gutsy 4-0 win after last years Cup Final in August.
Jake Trueman v Jonny Lomax – Trueman is forming a very effective partnership with Danny Richardson which has helped alleviate some of the pressure from his game. This tussle could be key to the game. Lachlan Coote’s return should help free Lomax to play his more natural game after he was snuffed out by a stubborn Huddersfield defence last week.
Liam Watts v Alex Walmsley – This battle has been key to our victories against Cas in the last few meetings and will be key again on Sunday. Watts is Cas’ main go forward prop and Walmsley does enjoy playing against him.
Saints will be hoping Lachlan Coote is fit to take his place at full back this week. We have definitely missed the reliable Coote, who helps organise the side and create opportunities out wide for the three quarters. The lack of link between Lomax and Coote has not helped our stuttering attack, and hopefully his reappearance will help us build some form over the next few weeks. We have a good record at Castleford, but Cas are in pretty good form at the moment despite their defeat last week. The key will be to take our chances, something we didn’t do against Huddersfield. Whenever Saints are under pressure and people are starting to doubt us, we usually come up with an unexpected win and performance so let’s hope for that on Sunday. It’s going to be a close one, but I will go with Saints by 10.