Grand Final Preview – Salford (N) Phil Jones 10th October 2019 2019 Match Previews, 2019 Season The Saints booked their Grand Final place with an emphatic 40-10 victory over local rival Wigan Warriors nearly two weeks ago in the Qualifying Semi Final at the Totally Wicked Stadium. It was arguably our finest performance of the season, and possibly our best performance of the Holbrook era, it was excellent from start to finish. Some people questioned whether the week off would work in our favour and Saints answered it in emphatic fashion. We can only hope the week off has the desired effect for the Grand Final too. The stats from the Saints v Wigan game speak for themselves really. Our forwards completely dominated the game with Thompson making more yards than seven of Wigan’s forwards combined with an outstanding 180 metres. Makinson made over 200 metres and Walmsley, Knowles, LMS, Lomax, Coote, Naiqama and Percival also made over 100 metres as Saints took Wigan to the sword in ruthless fashion. It is exactly the type of performance we will need in the Grand Final. Our forwards are our strength, keep the game in the pack, minimise the errors and our backs will score points off the back of it. It wasn’t just our domination with the ball that impressed but it was our eagerness in defence aswell. Wigan struggled to get out of their own half and were kicking from their 30-metre line time and time again. Our line speed and ability to halt the Wigan forwards was excellent and they just couldn’t live with the speed and power of us. It’s important to remember though that the job isn’t done. We earned our way to the Grand Final, but that is all it is – a ticket to the big night. We now need to cease the opportunity and prove we are the best team in the league by claiming the prize on October 12th. Our opponents The ultimate underdog the Salford Red Devils, booked their place in the Grand Final with an excellent 28-4 victory over the Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium on Friday. Whilst not quite as convincing a victory as Saints win over Wigan, it was no less impressive as they defended superbly to shut Wigan out of the game for most of the match. It was only a late Bevan French try that spared Wigan’s blushes slightly and if Salford had held on, they would’ve nilled their Play Off opponents for a 2nd week running following their 22-0 win against Castleford. It is that defence that makes them a very tough opponent on Saturday night. They may not have the star power that Saints have, but their workmanlike efforts and commitment makes them a big danger. Their coach Ian Watson has done a fantastic job and has proved that he has an adaptable game plan whatever the situation. He clearly learned from Saints win against Wigan the week before and adopted a very similar plan for their Semi Final and it worked to a treat, Wigan had no answer and just panicked once behind. There’s no doubt he will have watched Warrington’s Challenge Cup Final victory against Saints and will look to adopt a similar, simple game plan to try and unnerve Saints and play off any errors we make, because that is where Saints are vulnerable. Salford have had a fantastic season, and when looking at the points difference across the league they have the 2nd best in the league, which suggests their place in the Grand Final is well deserved. They have beaten Warrington three times, come close against Saints and beat Wigan in the Play Offs after losing to them narrowly 3 times. They have never been a million miles away most weeks and have hammered some teams along the way including an impressive 46-0 win in the South of France earlier in the year. Salford have already sold over 5,500 tickets for the final, following opening day sales and Saints have just two blocks of their allocation remaining, so it looks like there will be a big crowd on Saturday. I imagine most neutrals will be supporting Salford, so it is important the Saints fans get behind the lads. This is arguably now a more interesting game than it would’ve been if it had been Saints v Wigan as expected. The fairytale story of Salford reaching and winning the final will be what most neutrals will be hoping for, but if Saints win it’ll be the 1st time the team that finished top in the regular season has won the Grand Final, since Leeds in 2015. The Squads St Helens Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Joseph Paolo, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Jack Ashworth, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Lachlan Coote Salford Niall Evalds, Kris Welham, Jake Bibby, Lee Mossop, Josh Wood, Gil Dudson, Josh Jones, George Griffin, Mark Flanagan, Joey Lussick, Adam Walker, Greg Burke, Tyrone McCarthy, Logan Tomkins, Ken Sio, Krisnan Inu, Tui Lolohea, Jackson Hastings, Josh Jonson. Referee – Chris Kendall Saints have named an unchanged squad and Holbrook has pretty much confirmed 16 certainties to play on Saturday. The last bench spot will be between Aaron Smith, Joseph Paolo and James Bentley. A lot will depend on Roby’s fitness you’d imagine and for that reason you’d assume Aaron Smith is the favourite for the final bench spot at this stage, which would mean Joseph Poalo and James Bentley will be the unlucky duo to miss out. Weather Forecast The current forecast suggests it will be a dry but cloudy day, which will ensure it is a fast game. Judging by our previous Grand Finals, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that forecast changed and we faced torrential downpours. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 6 wins, Salford 0 wins. Last meeting – St Helens 32 – 30 Salford, Totally Wicked Stadium, Att. 9,446. The last encounter was an absolute classic at the TWS as Saints won it in the last minute after a controversial late try for James Bentley. Saints raced into a 16-0 lead but found themselves 30-16 behind as they went into the final quarter. Salford were without doubt the toughest opponents we’ve faced at home this season and no doubt they’ll look back at that game and think they owe us one. Saints won comfortably at the AJ Bell Stadium earlier this season following a 26-4 victory, following a masterclass from James Roby. Key Battles Thompson v Mossop – Thompson picked up the MOM award against Wigan after an incredibly dominating performance in the Semi Final. He is a world class player and is being linked with the NRL constantly, but he will be vital to Saints on Saturday alongside Walmsley and Roby. Mossop is a less profile player, but he’s played in Grand Finals before and Salford will be looking to his experience for this one. He’s reinvented himself this season and alongside Dudson helped to dominate against Wigan’s front row last week. Roby v Lussick – Roby has been carrying a groin injury for most of the season and despite surgery during the season he’s still suffering the ill effects from it. He is still vitally important in the way we play though and even if he only features for 50 minutes, they could be crucial to our chances. His constant threat and ability to spot a gap from dummy half makes him one of the best in the game even at the age of 34. Lussick will likely come off the bench and his impact on the game could be important if it’s tight in the 2nd half. He had a strong 2nd half against Wigan and speeds up the play for Salford. Fages v Hastings – Jackson Hastings, who was voted as this season’s Man of Steel, will be Salford’s go to man and they will be hoping he can open up the Saints defence and offer a threat with his kicking game. It is him who Saints will have to be wary of more than anybody on the field and he will know that. Fages has quietly gone under the radar this season as Coote and Lomax have received the plaudits, but it is without doubt Fages’ finest season in a Saints shirt, and he has now nailed down the number 7 shirt. He was our best player at Wembley and has continued his impressive form since. Prediction Grand Finals are very rarely one sided, high scoring affairs. Salford are playing extremely well and will hold no fear going into this one, as they will be massive underdogs. They are defending extremely well and that will make it difficult for Saints to crack them. But I don’t think they will have faced an attacking side as good as Saints for a while and if we click into gear like we did in the Semi Final, we will cause lots of problems. The key for Saints will be to control the ball, dominate field position and put the Salford defence under pressure. If we do that, we will score points regardless of how good Salford’s defence is. It’ll be a very tough game, especially in the 1st half but I think Saints will stick to the task and find the points towards the end of the 1st half and 2nd half. Saints by 12.