Leeds Round 17 Preview Phil Jones 21st October 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season The Saints put in arguably their best performance of the season against Wakefield last week especially in the 1st half, winning 48-6. The first half especially was almost flawless. There was serious intent and an attitude shift from the previous week, and you could tell within 5-10 minutes that we were up for the game and were going to put a big score on the board. The performance was like night and day compared to the previous week. The players received criticism from their own fans (including myself) after a few average performances. We got lucky in the 20-16 win against Wakefield and just about came away with the win, but we were very poor that day. In some ways it felt like we’d lost, and you could tell the players took the performance and criticism personally. There is no better way to respond than to turn up with a big performance like that. Our defence once again was excellent as it has been for most of this season, but the big shift in performance was our attack. The forwards ran onto the ball with vigour, the play the ball speed was quick and that allowed our half backs and Coote to create chances out wide for the likes of Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby and Grace, who had strong games off the back of it. The most impressive performer for me though was Lachlan Coote, who had a terrific game. When he links with the halves and gets the ball in space on the edge he very rarely picks the wrong pass and it showed time and time again as our outside backs, especially Makinson, were able to profit off the back of the good work from Coote and co. This performance is clearly the standard we need to set for the rest of the season as we head into a hectic schedule of 3 games in a week starting this Friday against Leeds. There were some excellent performances overall this week as eight players made over 100 metres – Makinson 186, Naiqama 132, Grace 183, Fages 101, Walmsley 162, Taia 113, Coote 153 and Welsby 124. James Bentley topped the tackle count with 38, Roby 37, Taia 36 and Knowles with 33. Our Opponents Leeds Rhinos won the Challenge Cup this weekend following a late drop goal victory as they triumphed 17-16 against the Salford Red Devils in a thrilling match at Wembley. It was arguably the best final at the new Wembley. I can only think of the Hull v Wire game that really came close in terms of entertainment. Leeds had the upper hand up front, Salford chanced their arm outwide and in the end Leeds just about had enough. I was particularly impressed with the way they dominated the field position and restricted Salford’s metres. Their forwards really got into the slog and allowed Gale to kick well. The question is will Leeds kick on and aim for Grand Final success or will they struggle to stick with the pace in the race for Old Trafford? They currently sit in 5th place just outside the Play Offs so there is a chance they can make the four, but given they’ve just won at Wembley and now face a hectic schedule it will be very difficult for them to make the four and they are up against it. This is probably the one game they didn’t want after a Cup Final win. Teams often struggle after a Cup Final win anyway, so facing a rampant Saints is less than ideal for them. 21 Man Squads St Helens Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Josh Simm, Lewis Dodd, James Graham. Leeds Rhinos Jack Walker, Rob Lui, Ava Seumanufagai, Brad Dwyer, Richie Myler, Mikolaj Oledzki, Bodene Thompson, Rhys Evans, Cameron Smith, Callum McLelland, Luke Briscoe, James Donaldson, Alex Sutcliffe, Sam Walters, Tom Holroyd, Jarrod O’Connor, Jack Broadbent, Corey Hall, Liam Tindall, James Harrison, Levi Edwards Saints came through the last game fairly unscathed and will welcome back James Graham this week, who has been self-isolating for the last two games after coming into contact with someone who had coronavirus. He will be a welcome return to the pack this week and you wonder if that will mean one of the props dropping out during the hectic schedule or whether he will come back in for Dom Peyroux who has been on the bench the last couple of weeks. Leeds have rested several of their 1st team stars for this one following the cup final, which is understandable, and gives us much more of a chance of victory. But one thing we mustn’t fall int the trap of is thinking the game is already won. We did this against Wakefield and it almost cost us, so we need to approach the game with a similar mentality to last week’s game. Referee – Liam Moore Kick Off – Friday 23rd October, 7.45pm Kick Off Venue – Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens Weather Forecast It is likely to be cold and wet throughout the day in a typical British October day, but rain should stop by the early evening which should hopefully allow for some attacking rugby hopefully. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 5 wins, Leeds 1 win. Last meeting – Leeds Rhinos 0 – 48 St Helens, Emerald Headingley Stadium. Leeds have always been a bit of a bogey team for Saints, especially in October as we are all too familiar with but our recent record is excellent having won the last five encounters including a 48-0 demolition last time out. Leeds had several players missing last time, therefore I’d expect them to give us much more of a game this time round. Saints need to perform to a similar level to last week, not many can live with us in that form. Key Battles Alex Walmsley v Ava Seumanufagai – The two big men will be relied on for their teams go forward this weekend. Leeds really got on top of Salford last weekend and it was in part due to their front row. Walmsley has been outstanding this season, the form prop in Super League. Whenever he plays well, we play well. Jonny Lomax v Robert Lui – Leeds will be without Luke Gale for this one so will be even more reliant on Robert Lui for this one. His running game in particular is a threat and will be something Saints will need to shut down. Lomax tops the assists charts this season with 18 and you would imagine he will play a pivotal role this Friday. Despite not perhaps hitting the heights of last season he still having a good season and his link up with Coote in particular is vital to the way we attack. Prediction This is the start of a tough run of six games in the space of three weeks’ so its important Saints set the tone and win this one. Leeds are a tough opponent but its always difficult to raise your game when you’ve just won the cup. They have rested several 1st team stars and the players coming in will no doubt give it a go this Friday, we saw that when they played Warrington recently. If Saints repeat last week’s performance though, Leeds will not live with us, but its key we play well and don’t underestimate Leeds. Saints by 26.