Saints v Halifax – Challenge Cup Semi Final Match preview
After a good run of victories against our top four rivals, Holbrook rested eleven of his 1st team stars along with Zeb Taia who was ruled out with injury for the trip to London, giving opportunities to some fringe players and youngsters, three of whom made their debuts for the club. Saints ultimately succumbed to a 32-12 defeat but by all accounts, the young lads gave it a good shot and it was silly errors and missed tackles that cost us against a desperate London side fighting against relegation.
The importance of a trip to Wembley
Saints and Holbrook have clearly targeted a trip to Wembley this season. Saints haven’t been to Wembley since 2008, which is quite staggering and unacceptable really given our success in the Super League era. I remember how nonchalant I was at the time when we were lifting our 3rd Challenge Cup in a row against Hull, thinking we would get there again the next year but unfortunately it didn’t happen and it’s fair to say we’ve had a trophy drought since then, with just one major trophy win in that eleven year period.
The Challenge Cup is massive for Saints this season, all Saints fans are desperate to get to Wembley, and it is also the biggest money-making competition in this country. Not only is it important financially but it would also get a monkey off our back should we get past the Semi Final stage. Since our Grand Final win in 2014, we have lost six Semi Finals during that period – two in the Challenge Cup (2015 vs Leeds and 2018 vs Catalans) and four Play Off Semi Finals (2015 vs Leeds, 2016 vs Warrington, 2017 vs Castleford and 2018 vs Warrington). A very depressing read.
I’ve read some opposition supporters questioning why we rested players against London when we are ‘only playing Halifax’ in the Semi Final and some questioning our integrity to the Super League competition. The simple answer is it is nothing to do with Halifax and more to do with the occasion. Last year, we went into the Semi Final having had a bruising encounter against Warrington the week before and we lost Dom Peyroux to injury before the game. Whilst these factors didn’t solely cost us the game, it did have a huge bearing on the result and it also led to indifferent form for the rest of the season, when many players were burnt out.
This season we’ve approached things differently, rotating players every week since April and giving most first teamers a week off against London when already 10 points clear in the league. This is a smarter approach and means our best players will be fit, over their niggling injuries and ready to be unleashed in the most important match of the season. If you disrespect the opposition and the occasion, there is a chance you may come unstuck and there is simply no chance that Saints were going to risk undervaluing the game this year, regardless of who we were playing.
It’s fair to say I had to do quite a lot of research about Halifax and their form this season as I don’t watch much Championship rugby if I’m completely honest. Since their Cup Quarter Final victory over Bradford, they have won just one of their last seven games, with one win, a draw (their last game) and five defeats during that period. They lie 8th in the Championship currently, which is nineteen places lower than us. They will be the lowest ranked opposition we will have faced this season by some distance.
Halifax do have a few ex Super League players in their line up including Scott Murrell, Will Sharp, Ben Kaye, Simon Grix, Kevin Laroyer, Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e and of course ex Saints, Stephen Tyrer. Tyrer, has already stated on social media that he will be a winner either way on Saturday as he will either be playing for Halifax or supporting his boyhood side Saints at Wembley in the final in a month’s time.
We should in no way take our opposition lightly, but Halifax have done incredibly well to get to this stage. Their route to the Semi Final includes victories over Hunslet (28-24), London Broncos (24-16), Dewsbury (34-6) and a close away victory at Bradford (20-16) in the Quarter Final. For their fans it will be a fantastic day out regardless of the result and they will be hoping for the biggest upset in RL history on Saturday.
Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Danny Richardson, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Joseph Paulo, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth, James Bentley, Matty Costello.
Ed Barber, Liam Cooper, Dan Fleming, Ben Johnstone, Ben Kaye, Brandon Moore, Scott Murrell, James Saltonstall, Adam Tangata, Chester Butler, Jacob Fairbank, Scott Grix, Ben Kavanagh, Kevin Larroyer, Elliot Morris, Will Sharp, Ste Tyrer, James Woodburn-Hall.
Zeb Taia is still a week or two away from a return and Lachlan Coote has been ruled out of the game with a knee injury. Jonny Lomax will likely step in at full back, with Theo Fages moving to stand off alongside Danny Richardson who will step in at scrum half. Everybody else is fit to play including the returning James Roby who has missed the last six games with a groin injury.
Head to Head
Last 6 games – Saints 6 wins, Halifax 0 wins.
Last game – 2003 – St Helens 58 – 2 Halifax, Knowsley Road, Att. 7,891.
You have to go back 16 years for the last meeting between the two sides, when Saints demolished Halifax 58-2 in a one-sided battle at our previous home, Knowsley Road. Halifax were later relegated that season after winning just one game all season and have not featured in Super League since that season. Halifax’s last win against Saints was over 20 years ago, back in 1998 when they defeated us 16-10 in a season where they finished 3rd in Super League.
Saints have put a huge focus on this game and have signalled the importance of getting to Wembley this season. Following the London game, where most of the squad were rested, the players will be fresh and ready to go. Last season’s Semi Final defeat was a miserable performance against Catalans and that will make Saints doubly determined to ensure there are no mishaps this year. I think Halifax are in for a very tough day and I just don’t see Saints failing in this one. There may be some early nerves, but once we have settled into the game, I think we will be far too strong and quick across the park and will win the game very comfortably, especially if the weather stays dry. Saints by 40.