This week offers a merciful break from Saints’ troubled Super League campaign as they visit Castleford Tigers in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth round tie on Saturday (May 13, kick-off 2.30pm).
Last week’s chastening 40-18 thumping at Warrington was another heavy wallop to Saints’ fading hopes of a top four spot in Super League, so attentions now turn to the quest for a first Wembley appearance since 2008. The draw could not have been less kind, however, with Castleford sitting top of the league and having not lost at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle so far in 2017.
At least Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor can approach what looks like being their final game in control before the arrival of new head coach Justin Holbrook with a full squad to pick from. Mark Percival and Alex Walmsley have returned from England duty and having not been selected by Wayne Bennett to play in the 30-10 win over Samoa in Campbelltown last Saturday (May 6) should be fresh provided they have not had too much taken out of them by having to fly half way around the world. Percival’s return means no place for Jake Spedding while Walmsley comes in to the initial 19-man selection in place of Adam Walker.
Walker’s omission might be slightly surprising in the context of the inclusion of Greg Richards, but the latter will compete with Walmsley for game time in the front row along with Kyle Amor and Luke Douglas. James Roby returned to action in the defeat at Warrington last week and should be all the better for getting those minutes under his belt. The Saints hooker will again be a key in both attack and defence, though Tommy Lee is also included should the coaching trio decide that Roby cannot go for the full 80.
Jon Wilkin pulled out of the defeat to Warrington in the warm-up with what was reported to be a hamstring injury, but the skipper takes his place in the squad and will likely start on the right hand side of the second row ahead of either Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook or Dominique Peyroux. Zeb Taia will be pleased to be reunited with Percival on the other side, while Luke Thompson and Morgan Knowles could share loose forward duties.
The continued absence of Jonny Lomax means another start at fullback for Tommy Makinson is likely despite his struggles at Warrington, while Adam Swift, Ryan Morgan and Regan Grace look set to complete the three-quarter line alongside Percival. Theo Fages and Matty Smith got into all sorts of tangles at the Halliwell Jones Stadium but are the only halves selected and as such a certainty to get another chance to improve their stuttering partnership.
Castleford have also been affected by England call-ups in the past week or so and will be hoping that Zak Hardaker, Luke Gale and Mike McMeeken are ready to go following their exertions. The only major absentee for Daryl Powell’s squad is Oliver Holmes, so a pack containing McMeeken, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Grant Millington, Paul McShane and Junior Moors is likely to provide Saints with more than enough problems. With Gale returning McShane can revert to a forward role having played in the halves in last week’s narrow victory over Huddersfield Giants and with Adam Milner also an option at nine for Powell’s side they have the edge there in terms of depth.
In the backs former Saint Michael Shenton is a standout but the real scoring threat comes from Gregs Eden and Minikin who remain the top two try-scorers in Super League this season with 15 and 13 respectively. Jake Webster is another experienced campaigner in the three-quarter line while alongside England’s Gale in the halves Powell can choose from the outstanding talents of Ben Roberts and Rangi Chase.
The sides have met already in Super League this season with Saints pulling off a 26-22 home win which nobody, particularly not this writer, thought probable. Similar fears surround this one, but the difference might be that the cup looks like the last chance for Saints to compete for silverware this season and so could inspire them to perform above themselves. By contrast, the Tigers need to juggle their bid for a first Challenge Cup final since 2014 with their bid to win what would be a coveted League Leaders Shield and maybe even the Grand Final itself. They won’t be openly saying it, but a week off here and there due to an early cup exit wouldn’t do those ambitions any harm.
- Zak Hardaker, 2. Greg Minikin, 3. Jake Webster, 4. Michael Shenton, 5. Greg Eden, 6. Rangi Chase, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Andy Lynch, 9. Paul McShane, 10. Grant Millington, 12. Mike McMeeken, 13. Adam Milner, 14. Nathan Massey, 15. Jesse Sene-Lefao, 16. Ben Roberts, 17. Junior Moors, 18. Matt Cook, 19. Gadwin Springer, 34. Alex Foster.
- 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.
Referee: Phil Bentham