When Saints name a 19 man squad before a Super League tie, you can usually hazard a guess at which 2 players will miss out and from there pick the starting 13. However, this week we knew the spine of the team well before this announcement, thanks to Justin Holbrook confirming that marquee signing Ben Barba would start at full back and Jonny Lomax would move back into the halves.
The TW Stadium has been buzzing at the thought of Ben Barba pulling on the red vee in a competitive game and this Friday is our chance to see a genuine superstar in action for what seems like many a year. I say that with a caveat, James Roby is a superstar but we’re just used to him playing at another level week in, week out – Barba is a definite superstar, and we obviously all hope he can recapture his NRL form.
Saints have kept fans updated as Barba’s ban for mistaking a Class A drug for a decongestant has wound down. We’ve been kept up to date on how he’s settled into living in the town, and if he knew what a ‘split’ was. We’ve been told he has taken part in all training sessions bar the captains run. The media/marketing department at Saints have certainly kept appetite in the full backs debut high – well done to them. If Barba has been running in training, we can be hopefully that he’ll slot straight into the team with minimal fuss. Obviously there will be some disruption – the backs will be used to Lomax’s voice, his runs, his positions but the fact that Barba has been bedded in for a few weeks makes me optimistic that he won’t upset the team too much.
Justin Holbrook has dropped the unfortunate Danny Richardson from the 19 man squad, and as previously mentioned, has confirmed Lomax will play at 6 with Smith at 7. I’m happy to defer to Holbrook’s judgement here. He obviously rates Danny Richardson, but he sees the players in training and must feel that Lomax and Smith in the halves is the best formula to beat Wigan. Richardson will be back in the 19 man squad in time, but maybe a week or two out will do the youngster good. I could trot out the usual ‘Smith’s game management’ line but in all honest it could just be that Smith used to play for Wigan and should know the nuances of their game better than the young half back.
Another player who can count himself unlucky is Theo Fages. The young Frenchman has kicked on since Holbrook’s arrival, taking on more responsibility in a key role. With the jettisoning of Tommy Lee from the 19, Fages could provide James Roby with the support at hooker that Roby used to provide for the King. While there are no players who the management feel are ready from the reserves or under 19’s, Fages can provide utility value from the bench – a quick, elusive hooker to come on after 25 minutes or so – remember those days?
A final word on Barba – the last Aussie we brought in at full back mid-season scored a debut hat-trick – more of the same on Friday and Barba will be on the Town Hall steps on Saturday morning being given Freedom of the Borough. But if you fancy more of the same – he’s currently (midday on Wednesday) 6/1 to score a hat-trick with SkyBet, and 7/1 to score the first try. You’ll have to lump on and cross your fingers for a holiday by the beach, boys (and girls).

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