Leeds Rhinos (A) – Round 26 Match Preview Phil Jones 13th August 2019 2019 Match Previews, 2019 Season The Saints extended their winning run to three as we overcame a weakened Warrington to whitewash another side in Super League this year following a 30-12 victory at the HJ Stadium. Both sides rested several of its star players with Warrington missing 10 and Saints missing 6 of its regulars in what was an awkward meeting before the Cup Final in two weeks’ time. We now go 14 (that’s right FOURTEEN) points clear at the top of the table, a ridiculous lead which equates to almost a quarter of the seasons’ games. In most other sports, we would be rejoicing our consistency and dominance but until the last game of the season, we won’t know for sure if we’ll be Champions or not. Last game review I was unable to attend the game due to other commitments and only managed to watch the game back on TV the day after, but we fully deserved the victory in the end. The 1st half was a tight affair as Warrington’s young side gave a spirited display and scored a good early try through Mamo. Despite going behind early, once we got back into the game we looked comfortable and it was stand in full back Jack Welsby who combined with Kevin Naiqama to notch our 1st points on the board. Jonny Lomax then scored a great solo try as he threw a dummy and waltzed through the gap to score to the left of the posts to put us in command at half time. The highlight of the game though was Tommy Makinson’s acrobatic try in the corner. An exquisite pass from stand in full back Welsby gave Makinson space in the corner and the finish was a Makinson special. There’s nobody in world RL that can finish like he can, he is truly unique when it comes to squeezing in the corner in the tightest of spaces. Overall, Saints were in 1st or 2nd gear throughout and there is much more to come and players to come back into the side that will improve us. Terry O’Connor’s comments on Sky Sports after the game were laugbable, as he claimed Warrington’s forwards had got on top, this despite Saints making nearly 400 metres more than Warrington. It is baffling what some people see sometimes, even Phil Clarke had to step in and disagree with his view. Our opponents Leeds have been in a relegation fight all year, but they have had a recent turnaround in their form winning their last two games after a narrow 26-24 defeat to Hull FC. They have racked up 92 points in their last two games, so they are a threat with ball in hand. We have beaten Leeds twice this season at home already, but the first game especially was a very tough game. We never seem to play that great at Headingley or against Leeds in general, so I’ve no doubt this will be a tough game for us on Thursday and there will also be question marks as to how focussed we will be, given we have a Cup Final to play the week after, with top spot already secured. Leeds now have a handy four-point cushion between them and bottom placed London with four games to go, so whilst they’re not mathematically safe yet it is looking more and more unlikely that they will go down. You imagine one more win will save them, two will save them for sure. The Squads Leeds Jack Walker, Konrad Hurrell, Ash Handley, Richie Myler, Adam Cuthbertson, Trent Merrin, Stevie Ward, Brad Dwayer, Liam Sutcliffe, Brett Ferres, Nathaniel Peteru, Cameron Smith, Luke Briscoe, James Donaldson, Harry Newman, Ava Seumanufagi, Shaun Lunt, Robert Lui, Rhyse Martin St Helens Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Danny Richardson, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Matty Costello, Joe Batchelor, Jack Welsby. Saints have named a strong 19 but will be without Lachlan Coote (knee), James Roby (groin), Alex Walmsley (eye), Joseph Paolo (hamstring) and LMS (rested). Morgan Knowles is back from a three match lay off and Joe Batchelor comes into the squad this week. Mark Percival missed out last week, but he is named in the 19 again this week. Coote has not played since the middle of July, so his absence is a little bit concerning. It’s obviously not worth the risk before Wembley if he needs an extra week to get right, but he will lack sharpness and match fitness next week and he is also our goal kicker too, which could be crucial come the final. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 3 wins, Leeds 3 wins. Last meeting – St Helens 36 – 10 Leeds, Totally Wicked Stadium, Att. 11,848. Our record is very hit and miss against Leeds, although we have won our last three meetings against them. Our last meeting was a one-sided game, but our previous five meetings had two points, two points, eight points, one point and five points between the sides, so our battles with Leeds always seem to be very close. Key battles Makinson v Handley – Leeds like to promote the ball as do we, so the two wingers could get some ball this weekend. Both are good finishers and could have an impact on the game. Makinson will have to defend well against the pace of Handley. Knowles v Merrin – I’m assuming Morgan Knowles will play and if he does, he will face a tough test up against Trent Merrin, who is starting to show why Leeds brought him in. Knowles has been great this season until his recent injury and the game time before Wembley will be useful for him. Prediction We always seem to struggle at Headingley, whether we have a full strength team or half a team. Leeds have come into form and one or two more wins will ensure they survive this season. They will see this as a great opportunity to turn us over with us missing a few players. For Saints it’s about ensuring we pick up no injuries to key players and for that reason I can see one of two more missing out. We will want to continue the momentum going into Wembley though so I will go with a narrow win. Saints by 6.