After a sensational start to the 2018 Super League season Saints embark on their first away trip of the new campaign when they visit Catalans Dragons at the Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday (February 10, kick-off 5.05pm UK Time).
Justin Holbrook’s side blew Castleford Tigers away in Round 1 last week, scoring eight tries with just one in reply as they stormed to a 46-6 victory over last season’s League Leaders Shield winners. It was a measure of revenge for the heart-stopping loss in last year’s Super League semi-final, when Luke Gale’s extra time drop-goal took the Tigers into the Grand Final. Now they face a Dragons side which was itself torn to shreds on its travels last week, going down 40-12 to relegation favourites Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium.
Holbrook has made one change to the 19-man squad which was on duty for the home clash with Daryl Powell’s Castleford. Adam Swift is recalled because Ryan Morgan is unavailable after suffering a concussion in the win over the Tigers. Morgan was forced off at half-time in that one, leaving Jonny Lomax to cover at centre while Theo Fages took over at stand-off. Holbrook must decide whether to employ Lomax in the centres once more in Morgan’s absence, or else leave him in the halves where he started the Castleford game and move either Dominique Peyroux from the second row or perhaps Tommy Makinson from the wing. The latter would allow Swift to come in on the wing opposite Regan Grace, while Mark Percival should start again after his hat-trick of tries against the Tigers.
At fullback Ben Barba was untouchable last weekend and is likely to be a key figure again here. The former Cronulla man scored two tries and laid on another three, while also kicking through for Alex Walmsley to flick the ball back from the dead ball line to allow Lomax an easy score. Defensively Barba also made an impact, dragging the 2017 top try-scorer in Super League Greg Eden over the side-line and bringing the house down as he did so. He went over for the second of his brace of tries on the next set.
If Lomax is left in the stand-off role he will play alongside Danny Richardson in the halves. The young scrum-half was preferred to Matty Smith last weekend and there is no reason to assume he won’t be again after a fine performance in which he looked lively throughout, and also went some way to solving Saints goal-kicking problem with seven successful attempts from eight. The one he missed looked suspiciously good also, though thankfully the decision to chalk it off did not have any effect on the outcome of the game. For Smith it looks to be a waiting game. He will get an opportunity when injuries and suspension kick in but there is the possibility also that he may not want to wait around for that and may instead seek first team rugby league somewhere else before too long.
Walmsley picked up a knock late in the Tigers game but is fit to take his place in the 19. He is likely to start from the bench as Luke Thompson and either Kyle Amor or Luke Douglas start. Amor was one of the few disappointments in last week’s win, while Douglas will be keen to get an opportunity after missing out on selection for the match day 17 altogether. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook was preferred as a bench option along with Fages and Morgan Knowles who didn’t manage to push Jon Wilkin out of the starting loose forward berth. If Peyroux is needed in the centres then both Wilkin and Knowles could start, with former Catalans star Zeb Taia filling one second row berth. The former Gold Coast Titan picked up two tries against Castleford and was outstanding in combination with Barba and Percival down Saints exciting left edge in attack.
James Roby made his 400th appearance for the club against the Tigers and was typically brilliant in what was also his first competitive game as captain. He will again start but may not go for the full 80 minutes as he did last week when Fages was required in the halves following Morgan’s injury. If everyone stays fit the French captain could well be the best option to give Roby a rest at hooker.
The Dragons were fairly awful in 2017, only rescuing themselves from dropping down to the Championship by winning the Million Pound Game against Leigh Centurions. They have started 2018 in similarly worrying form, holding their own at Widnes for the first half before conceding 28 unanswered points after the break. They will need to be a lot better to compete with a Saints side which was among the top performers in Round 1, with Wigan and Hull FC also scoring big wins and Leeds edging Warrington. They Dragons should be stronger at home as ever, but whether they will be good enough to see off Saints is highly questionable.
David Mead made a try-scoring debut in the defeat at Widnes and should become one of the stars of Super League following his move from Brisbane Broncos. The Papua New Guinea international has scored 71 tries in the NRL and along with former Huddersfield flyer Jodie Broughton and the excellent Brayden Williame offers real threat in the Dragons back-line. Former Wiganers Iain Thornley and Lewis Tierney inspire a little less confidence.
In the halves former Saint Luke Walsh is the chief but last week’s partner Samisoni Langi will not feature, which may give an opportunity to youngster Lucas Albert who had to be content with a place on the bench at Widnes. Ex-Wigan cheap-shot merchant Michael McIlorum leads the front row with Julian Bousquet, but Sam Moa is suspended after his high shot on Joe Mellor in the early going last weekend. Greg Bird missed last week’s defeat but is in the 19 and could make a huge difference to the Catalans side if he is fit and ready to go. Elsewhere in the pack Remi Casty, Jason Baitieri, Mickael Simon and Benjamin Garcia provide some real grunt if they are at the top of their game.
Last time the sides met in France it was Fages who came up with the key play, somehow managing to offload to Jack Owens as he fell to the ground in the tackle late on to secure a 28-24 win. It remains Owens’ finest moment in a Saints shirt before his move to Leigh Centurions. Yet this looks a Saints side which no longer has room for limited tryers such as Owens. There is quality throughout this Saints side and with confidence high you would expect them to pick up the two points on offer in Perpignan in this Round 2 meeting.
- David Mead, 2. Jodie Broughton, 3. Iain Thornley, 4. Brayden Wiliame, 7. Luke Walsh, 8. Rémi Casty, 12. Benjamin Garcia, 13. Greg Bird, 14. Julian Bousquet, 15. Mickael Simon, 16. Vincent Duport, 17. Jason Baitieri, 18. Thibaud Margalet, 19. Michael McIlorum, 20. Lewis Tierney, 21. Benjamin Jullien, 22. Lucas Albert, 23. Antoni Maria, 24. Alrix Da Costa.
- Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 23. Ben Barba.
Referee: Phil Bentham