Catalans (H) – Play off Semi Final Phil Jones 18th November 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season Following a premature end to the regular season, Saints finished 2nd following Wigan’s victory over Huddersfield in the final week of the season (Saints did not play as we had already played a game more than Wigan) to relinquish the League Leaders Shield after winning it the previous two seasons, and will now take on the Catalans Dragons in the Semi Final at the Totally Wicked Stadium this Friday, which coincidentally should’ve been our last league game until the game was called off and regular season called to a halt. It was the right call to bring the season to an end, as the season was becoming uncompromised with issues at Cas, Salford and Hull KR especially. At least now there are meaningful games and the players especially are in covid bubbles leading into the big games. The top 6 structure also works quite well, although Hull beating Warrington now puts them within 80 minutes of a Grand Final at their home ground which could cause a bit of controversy especially as they finished 6th in the table, with the Play Off structure originally being set as five and then changed to four post lockdown. Saints have not played in the last three weeks and this has both its positives and negatives. It will have allowed the players to freshen up, get over the niggling injuries and has given them effectively 3 weeks to prepare for the Semi Final. There’s no doubt the players needed a break after a busy schedule of games. We looked a little leggy against Wigan in the 2nd half, so the freshening up will have done us some good. The negative side is potentially lacking match sharpness heading into a big Semi Final against a side that has played 3 less games than us over the course of the season but are battle hardened following their match against Leeds last week. Hopefully Saints will have used the last couple of weeks wisely and we will perform like we did against Catalans post lockdown when we came out of the blocks quickly and beat them convincingly. The Saints will still be smarting after their disappointing loss to Wigan in their last match at the end of October. It was a very intense game, especially 1st half with very little to choose between the sides. We probably had a slight edge in terms of territory 1st half but there wasn’t a lot to separate between the sides in a brutal defensive game. We were very disappointing in the 2nd half though and lacked punch in the forwards without the absent Alex Walmsley. The likes of Kyle Amor, LMS and Matty Lees simply didn’t perform well enough and it gave James Roby and our halves no time on the ball or territory to do anything. We need to use that disappointment for the rest of the season and hopefully it will be the kick up the backside the players need after going through the season post lockdown pretty much unbeaten. There were some really disappointing performances, especially in the pack against Wigan last time out. None of our forwards made over 100m with James Graham toping the stats with 88m. The loss of Alex Walmsley was felt and the pack didn’t really stand up unfortunately. They were some great defensive stats though with Roby making 67 tackles, Bentley 59 and Knowles 50. Our Opponents Catalans were excellent against Leeds last week as they overpowered Leeds in the early part of the game and held them at arms reach throughout. They looked fresh and dangerous with their big pack and exciting backline and will be a huge threat to us this Friday. Their pack especially completely dominated Leeds early in the game and it was that early start and tone they set in the game that was impressive. When they are fully fit and at their best they are a devastating to side to watch. They will be missing some key players though as Joel Tomkins has been suspended for 8 matches and Micky Mcilorum has been suspended for 6 matches, two crucial losses for them this week. 21 Man Squads St Helens Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Josh Simm, Lewis Dodd, James Graham. Catalans Dragons David Mead, Samisoni Langi, Israel Folau, Fouad Yaha, James Maloney, Josh Drinkwater, Remi Casty, Sam Moa, Matt Whitley, Benjamin Garcia, Julian Bousquet, Mickael Simon, Tom Davies, Benjamin Julien, Alex Da Costa, Mickael Goudemand, Paul Seguier, Jason Baitieri, Arthur Mourgue, Sam Kasiano, Sam Tomkins. Apart from Mark Percival, Saints go into this one with a clean bill of health so there are no excuses for us this Friday. You’d imagine 15 of the spots aren’t really up for debate but the Centre spot and final bench spot may cause a bit of debate. I’d personally go with Josh Simm at Centre and Dom Peyroux on the bench with LMS, Amor and Lees but you could make a case for Aaron Smith on the bench and Jack Welsby is likely to play at Centre, having been favoured most recently against Wigan. Referee – Liam Moore Kick Off – Friday 20th November, 7.45pm Kick Off Venue – Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens Weather Forecast It is going to be a cold and wet day and night, therefore the battle in the forwards and kicking game will be vital. The rain may have settled by kick off but conditions likely to be wet and slippy. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 4 wins, Catalans 2 win. Last meeting – Catalans Dragons 6 – 34 St Helens, 2nd August 2020, Emerald Headingley Stadium Catalan have a fairly decent record against us having won 2 of their last 6, one of which was in the 2018 Challenge Cup Semi Final when they comprehensively beat us 35-16. Their most recent win against us came in 2019, which was our 1st loss of the 2019 campaign. We have won the last two games fairly convincingly though including the last game post lockdown with a 34-6 victory. Key Battles Lachlan Coote v Sam Tomkins – Two of the form full backs in Super League this season and both are crucial to their sides link play in the three quarters. Tomkins was outstanding last week as he scored a superb opening in the 1st few minutes and played a crucial role in the rest of the game. Coote is hugely important for us. He’s not a flashy player but his ability to create space outwide for others and to throw a defence splitting pass makes him a huge threat and vital component of our team. Alex Walmsley v Sam Moa – The two big front rowers are crucial to the sides go forward and we felt the absence of Walmsley against Wigan last time out. Walmsley is the leader of the pack, plays big minutes and punches holes in the defence. He is hugely vital for us this Friday. Prediction Hopefully the Wigan performance and defeat is the kick up the backside we needed and the players will certainly be fresh following the break. The key will be starting fast and getting on top in the forwards early in the game to allow us to take advantage at the ruck. If we do that, I fancy us to reach a consecutive Grand Final. Saints by 12.