Saints return to action when they travel to the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Giants this Friday night (February 23, kick-off 7.45pm).
Justin Holbrook’s side have been inactive since beating Catalans Dragons 21-12 in Perpignan on February 10, while the Giants also had the week off as Leeds unsuccessfully fought for a world title and Hull FC and Wigan introduced us to the concept of pre-season friendlies after the start of the season down in Australia. Whatever the whys and wherefores of that, it did offer both Saints and the Giants an opportunity to rest a few battered bodies ahead of what will be a long, hard season.
One man who will be resting for a little longer is Morgan Knowles. The young back rower serves the first of a four-match suspension handed to him following his dangerous tackle on Thibault Margalet in that win over the Dragons. Replacing the Welsh international in the 19-man squad is prop Matty Lees who could be in line for a start ahead of either Kyle Amor or Luke Douglas. Neither has impressed greatly in their one outing apiece so far this term while Lees looked far hungrier in the few first team opportunities he was handed at the back end of last season. Lees inclusion is the only change to Holbrook’s 19-man selection.
That means that another Morgan who won’t feature is Australian centre Ryan Morgan. The former Melbourne man missed the trip to France with a broken nose sustained in the opening weekend win over Castleford Tigers and although he was declared fit to play by Holbrook he has not been included in the selection. That will likely mean that Tommy Makinson will continue at centre, allowing both Adam Swift and Regan Grace to play in the same backline. Swift returned to first team action with an impressive performance against Steve McNamara’s side two weeks ago and deservedly keeps his place. Mark Percival will complete the three-quarter line ahead of the standout Ben Barba at fullback. Matty Smith is included in the 19 having yet to make an appearance in the first team in 2018. He looks unlikely to break up the halfback partnership of Jonny Lomax and Danny Richardson at this stage.
Whichever or Lees, Amor or Douglas gets the nod at prop will most likely partner Luke Thompson from the start. The 22-year-old has arguably been Saints most impressive prop in the opening two wins, while Alex Walmsley seems to be firmly established now as an impact player from the bench in the Holbrook regime. James Roby remains the best hooker in the competition but also remains without an obvious understudy, with Theo Fages likely be used in that position from the bench. Zeb Taia, Jon Wilkin and Dominique Peyroux should form the back row although Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook will push for a starting slot also.
Huddersfield’s last outing was a 20-6 victory over Warrington on February 8 and they make just one change from the 19 on duty for that game. Adam Walne comes into the reckoning at the expense of young prop Tyler Dickinson. Jermaine McGilvary could be ready to make his first appearance of the season. The England winger was one of the stars of the World Cup but has been out of action so far in 2018 and will be an obvious danger man if he features. That could see Aaron Murphy move to the centres alongside former Saint Jordan Turner, while another ex-Saints man Lee Gaskell is also an option for coach Rick Stone there or in the halves. Danny Brough is on the brink of a new one-year deal with the Giants and is still the side’s on-field leader at halfback, while Jordan Rankin is a dangerous foil should he be preferred to Gaskell. Jake Mamo missed a large chunk of 2017 through injury but showed enough in the games that he did play at fullback to mark himself out as one of the top players in that position. His battle with Barba could be one of the highlights of the evening.
The Giants pack features another ex-red vee wearer in Paul Clough and is bolstered by the experience of Ryan Hinchcliffe, Dale Ferguson and Sebastine Ikahihifo on the back of his new three-year agreement with the club. Ukuma Ta’ai and Ollie Roberts add further strength in the forward line while Adam O’Brien and Kruise Leeming are a more than useful dummy half duo.
Saints haven’t had it all their own way in clashes with the Giants in recent times, winning only two of the last four played in West Yorkshire, a run that includes a 24-16 defeat on their last visit in 2017. It was also Stone’s side who finally ended the reign of Keiron Cunningham as Saints coach when they came back from 14-0 down to earn a 14-14 draw at Saints in April, a game that sounds from that sentence a lot more exciting than it actually was.
Saints may find it tough again this time around but after a solid start to the season can be justifiably confident of coming back home with the two points and their 100% star to the season intact. It could be close but expect Saints to maybe just edge it by six.
- Jake Mamo, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 4. Jordan Turner, 5. Aaron Murphy, 6. Lee Gaskell, 7. Danny Brough, 8. Seb Ikahihifo, 9. Kruise Leeming, 13. Ryan Hinchcliffe, 14. Dale Ferguson, 15. Jordan Rankin, 16. Oliver Roberts, 17. Ukuma Ta Ai, 18. Paul Clough, 19. Daniel Smith, 20. Adam Walne, 21. Adam O’Brien, 23. Darnell McIntosh, 25. Colton Roche.
- 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, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 23. Ben Barba.
Referee: Liam Moore