Castleford – Round 9 Preview Phil Jones 14th August 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season Following a re-jig of this week’s fixtures, Saints now take on Castleford Tigers at The Totally Wicked Stadium instead of Wakefield on Sunday, following the news that six Hull players and two members of staff at Hull had contracted coronavirus and are therefore unable to play this weekend. This has impacted this week’s fixtures and as a result Salford are no longer able to play their game either as 11 of their players must self-isolate for 2 weeks, leaving just 4 fixtures remaining. Saints will now play Wakefield in the round 16 game. I think given the circumstances this was the best of a bad situation and at least Super League have maintained the maximum amount of games with the minimal amount of fuss. What it means for Hull FC and Salford at this stage, who knows, their game will have to be played at some stage later in the season. There is also a doubt about Hull’s participation in the Challenge Cup next weekend. The Saints meanwhile continued their impressive start after lockdown with a sensational 48-0 victory at Headingley against the Leeds Rhinos in a one sided shut out, Leeds 1st nilling at home since 1992. Saints were relentless in attack and defence on Sunday and it was like we were playing a different game at a completely different speed. Leeds could not live with the pace that Saints were setting and the game became a ruthless precession. Leeds had several key injuries, so there is a slight mitigation in their favour, but even if they were full strength, they wouldn’t have lived with Saints on Sunday. Everything about Saints at the moment is impressive. The players look extremely fit, the rule changes are suiting us and allowing us to play very directly, offloading when getting the chance, attacking the ruck with our big forwards and making probing runs close to the ruck. We are punching holes up the middle and in the channels with ease at the moment. The platform laid by the forwards made the job very easy for Coote, Lomax and Fages and gave our outside backs space to create and score from their opportunities which they did. Add to that one of the best hat tricks you will ever likely to see from Regan Grace, and it’s fair to say we witnessed a rugby league masterclass from the Saints. It really was as enjoyable and as satisfying as it gets. The most impressive part of our performance for me though was our defence. Scoring 48 points was great, especially when you consider the manner of some of our tries, but our defence was absolutely brutal at times and the players scrambled hard when they needed to. The defence was excellent against Catalans too, so there is clearly a focus on being defensively strong this year and playing directly at the ruck. There were some impressive stats for Saints with 8 players making more than 100 metres – Makinson 192, Naiqama 114, Grace 252, Fages 107, Walmsley 205, Taia 132, Amor 116 and Graham 107. James Bentley was excellent again making 52 tackles in total and 90 metres in attack and with performances like that it will be very difficult for Dom Peyroux to displace him when fit. Our Opponents Castleford were impressive pre lockdown and their last win of course came against Saints back in March following an impressive 28-14 victory at the Jungle in which they were pretty dominant, but their 1st game after lockdown went poorly as they lost 40-14 against Catalans Dragons. Cas started the game really well against the Dragons and led early on 14-0 following a double from Centre, Michael Shenton. Catalans fought back well though and once they went ahead, they never looked back scoring 40 unanswered points in a dominant display as Cas couldn’t live with the speed and quality of the Catalans side. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back this week and it’s fair to say Saints would be the last opponent they would want to face this weekend. They beat us in March, so Saints will be desperate for revenge and we are simply in great form at the moment, so after a 40-point defeat they would’ve preferred a much easier game to find their form. Peter Mata’utia will be suspended for Cas this weekend which means they will have to shuffle the backline a bit. Liam Watts returns for Castleford and Sosaia Feki could make his debut, so that will offset the loss of Mata’utia. 21 Man Squads St Helens Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Zeb Taia, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Lewis Dodd, James Graham. Castleford Derrell Olpherts, Michael Shenton, Sosaia Feki, Jake Trueman, Danny Richardson, Liam Watts, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Oliver Holmes, Mike McMeekan, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey, Jesse Sene-Lefao, George Griffin, Alex Foster, Junior Moors, James Clare, Jacques O’Neill, Tyla Hepi, Callum Turner, Gareth O’Brien. Jack Ashworth comes in for Dom Peyroux in the only change to the 21-man squad. Matty Costello is not named in the squad despite stepping in to the 17 last week, so you would assume Mark Percival will return to the starting line up this week if he has recovered from his hamstring injury. Referee – James Child Kick Off – Sunday 16th August, 4.15pm Venue – Totally Wicked Stadium, St. Helens Weather Forecast The weather doesn’t look great this Sunday with a 50% chance of light rain expected throughout the day. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 5 wins, Castleford 1 win. Last meeting – Castleford 28 – 14 St Helens, The Mend-a-Hose Jungle, Att. 7,268. The Saints have a good record against Castleford having won five of the last six games, but they did beat us in our last encounter in March prior to the lockdown. Castleford were miles better than us that day and deserved the win. The forwards led the way for them and the likes of McMeekan and Watts were excellent. Danny Richardson put in a good performance against his old club aswell and you could just tell they wanted it more. Saints were off their game that day, our attack was very one dimensional, our execution of plays was very poor and defensively we weren’t as solid as we had been in prior weeks. Key Battles Alex Walmsley v Liam Watts – Walmsley has been in outstanding form since the restart hitting nearly 400m in two games. His fitness is as good as it’s ever been currently and along with James Graham is playing a big part in why we are dominating the opposition. Liam Watts returns to Castleford’s side this week and he was a big loss for them last week. He is the key to Castleford’s pack and he had a particularly strong game against us earlier this year. This battle could be a classic. James Roby v Paul McShane – Two of the stand out hookers come up against each other this weekend as James Roby clocks up his 500th competitive appearance for club and country, a remarkable achievement. Roby has come back fresh and rejuvenated following the enforced break and its probably done him as much good as anyone. His control of the ruck is still vital for Saints and whilst the likes of Coote and Lomax are important, Roby is still the glue that holds it all together in the middle. McShane currently leads the MOS voting and was having a fantastic season prior to lockdown. He had little influence on his side last week against Catalans due to their sides performance and he will be looking to get on the front foot more this weekend. Prediction We’re in excellent form at the moment and playing back at our home will give us another boost going into this game. It is expected to rain this Sunday so this could make the game slower and even the battle up slightly. Defensively we look very strong and very sharp with the ball. If Cas don’t improve from last week’s performance, then this could be very one sided. I do feel they will improve and make a game of it, but Saints record at home to Cas is excellent, therefore you would have to fancy us this weekend. Saints by 14.