Hull (A) – Round 3 Match Preview Phil Jones 14th February 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season After a good opening day win, the Saints came crashing back down to earth with a disappointing 19-0 defeat away at Warrington last Thursday. The game was very reminiscent to the Challenge Cup Final in many ways as we made a number of errors with the ball allowing Warrington to gain territory and field position and opportunities to score. Our attack was also very flat and whenever we did have opportunities, strong Warrington defence stopped us from scoring. Naiqama and Lomax were denied on the Warrington line, similar to Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace in the Cup Final as Warrington showed an incredible desire to deny us. Our defence was strong throughout and looks to be our main strength again this season but the tries we conceded were disappointing. The 1st try was a dummy half barge over from Clark, which was easily preventable and the 2nd should never been allowed following a couple of errors in the build-up. The 3rd try was a good move, but if Percival had been there, I doubt the gap would’ve been created, as Peyroux picked the wrong man in an unfamiliar Centre position. I believe the errors made with the ball put us under unnecessary pressure and defensive errors crept in whilst fatigued. It is something we have to fix up against Hull and definitely has to be more of a focus when we play Warrington. The injury situation is starting to get a little bit concerning. Our pack really struggled with the loss of pack talisman Alex Walmsley and the calmness of Lachlan Coote and Tommy Makinson was missed at the back as Jack Welsby and Kevin Naiqama both made errors which led to tries. Playing Warrington with a full-strength team, when they’re in that form is tough, but with the injuries we had, we were always going to be up against it and so it proved. I don’t want to take anything away from Warrington though, they thoroughly deserved their win and sometimes you just need to hold your hand up and admit you were beaten by the better side on the night. They wanted it more than we did, and they had a point to prove after a poor end to last season and a narrow defeat at Wigan the previous week. If they can continue to perform like that, they will be a big threat to our title this season, make no mistake about it. Our Opponents Hull FC have had a good start to the season having beaten Leeds and Hull KR in their opening two games and currently sit top of the table despite playing a game less than Wigan, who sit 2nd. They looked strong in their opening match against Leeds, but their derby match against Hull KR could’ve gone either way and they did struggle to contain Hull KR’s offloads at times during the game. They have recruited exceptionally well in the off season and they do look to be a much better and more balanced side this season. Josh Jones and Ligi Sao bring a solid, competitiveness to their pack which they may have lacked in previous years and they compliment the impact the likes of Manu Ma’u brings to the side. Whilst Ma’u will be missing on Sunday, they still have lots of size and power in the pack to cause problems. They have played two teams who I would expect them to beat in their 1st two games though, so it’s difficult to tell how good they actually are at the moment and there’s no doubt they’ll be looking at this game as their acid test of the season so far. 21 Man Squads Hull FC Jamie Shaul, Carlos Tuimavave, Josh Griffin, Adam Swift, Jake Connor, Mark Sneyd, Scott Taylor, Danny Houghton, Josh Jones, Ligi Sao, Jordan Johnstone, Masi Matongo, Brad Fash, Jordan Lane, Josh Bowden, Mahe Fonua, Connor Wynne, Kieran Buchanan, Gareth Ellis, Ratu Naulago. St Helens Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Joseph Paolo, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Matty Costello, Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd, Tom Nisbet. Saints will be without Mark Percival for several months following a shoulder / sternum injury he picked up against Warrington which is a big blow to our backline. It is likely Matty Costello will step in this week to play at left Centre. We will also be without James Roby and Lachlan Coote, who continue to recover from their injuries and could come back for the World Club Challenge next week. The Saints have been boosted by the return of Morgan Knowles, Tommy Makinson, Kyle Amor though who have yet to feature this season and Alex Walsmley is named in the squad, having missed the game at Warrington last week and could feature. Referee – Liam Moore Kick Off – 3pm Venue – KCOM Stadium, Hull Weather Forecast There are expected to be strong winds and heavy rain this Sunday, which is not ideal conditions. It will be important to win the forward battle and to respect position, something we didn’t do enough against Warrington. The kicking game will also be crucial in this one. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 6 wins, Hull FC 0 wins. Last meeting – Hull FC 6 – 22 St Helens, KCOM Stadium, Att. 11,004. Saints have an excellent record against Hull FC having won all of their last 6 meetings. The last time Hull FC beat Saints was back in 2017, when Hull won 8-6 at the Totally Wicked Stadium. The KCOM Stadium, used to be a bogey ground for Saints but we have won there on our last three occasions. Key Battles Jonny Lomax v Jake Connor – Two British half backs will do battle on Sunday and whilst they both have different styles, they are both crucial to their sides chances of success. Warrington had a game plan to stop Lomax last week and it worked well, so Hull may try and follow the same plan. Whoever gets on top in this battle I fancy will come out on top. Zeb Taia v Josh Jones – Another intriguing battle in the back row as the consistent Josh Jones takes on the brilliant Zeb Taia, in the back row. Whilst neither are the flashiest of players, both do the simple things well and when they’re missing you notice. Taia’s combination with Lomax is always good to watch and usually allows for scoring opportunities on the left edge of the field. Prediction This will be the acid test for Hull so far, but it’s also a very difficult game for Saints especially with a few injuries to the side. We are getting bodies back, but they will be slightly underdone and short of match practise having not featured so far this season. Defence and retaining the ball will be key and the Saints will want a confidence boosting win (and no injuries) going into the World Club Challenge next weekend. They will also be eager to turn in a much better performance following the disappointment at Warrington and the 10 days turnaround will work in our favour and will have given the squad time to fix a few things. It will be a tough one, but I’m going to predict a Saints win. Saints by 8.