Leeds – Round 8 Match Preview Phil Jones 7th August 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season Following a near five month break, the Saints put on a show against the Catalans Dragons at Headingley in the restarted Super League clash, winning 34-6. There were a lot of things to be impressed about in this Saints performance. The quality of some of our tries were excellent, we looked very sharp and quick with ball in hand and our fitness appears to be very good, which is very encouraging given the players haven’t had much chance to train together and shows the professionalism of the players at Saints. James Roby appeared to be back to his best, shaking off some earlier injuries and if his game time is managed well over the next few months, we could continue to see the best of him which will be hugely beneficial to our chances. Defensively though, we were outstanding and our willingness to scramble was very good to see. It was like night and day from the performance at Castleford pre lockdown and it was like watching the team of 2019 at times. Eight of the Saints seventeen made over 100 metres during the game with Tommy Makinson making an impressive 220 metres. Mark Percival made 182 metres and Alex Walmsley made 152 metres. Zeb Taia also made 144 metres in a completely dominant attacking performance. James Graham hit a solid 84 metres and 28 tackles on his return to the club. Two others who impressed were James Bentley and Morgan Knowles who topped the tackle count with 46 and 45 tackles respectively. Both of those players could be key components of the Saints pack for years to come and with that performance from Bentley, it will be difficult for Peyroux to just come in and play on the right side of the back row upon his return from injury this week. Lockdown came at a very good time for Saints. We had players coming back from injury earlier this year and players who had missed pre-season (Knowles, Roby, Makinson, Coote) who were not fully fit and needed time to find their best form and rhythm. We also put a huge amount into the World Club Challenge game and appeared to have a hangover afterwards. Our performances against Huddersfield and Castleford didn’t lack effort but they did lack sharpness and quality and both those sides were able to take advantage of that and beat us. We also had a long-term injury to Centre, Mark Percival and his replacement James Bentley was unavailable too, which meant our backline wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been during those earlier games. If the season had continued in March, who knows how we’d have performed at Headingley against Leeds, who were playing well at the time but now we go to Headingley against Leeds in a much more confident and buoyant mood. Leeds will have home advantage for this one even though games are currently being played at neutral venues, but without the South Stand behind them it makes the game a lot more even than usual. The Saints players won’t have to put up with the din of the South Stand band or the shouts of “We’re Leeds Raarrrrnoooosseee!” every 5 minutes. For Saints, it’s another important game and due to the poor start we had to the season, we need to go on a good run of form and string 6 or 7 wins together to put ourselves near the top of the table. Our Opponents Leeds are the current league leaders having won 4 out of their opening 5 games and are unbeaten since their opening game against Hull back in February. This will be their biggest test so far though and they know they will have to be a lot better than they were against Huddersfield on Sunday evening. I’m not quite sure how they managed to win that game. They were dominated for 65 minutes and at 26-6, Huddersfield had the game won, but completely took their foot off the gas and Leeds got some momentum to steal the game, 27-26. Once the game went to golden point there was only going to be one winner and it was Luke Gale who kicked the winning drop goal, which quite frankly haunted me, and brought back painful memories from the Play Off defeat at Cas in 2017, when Gale broke our hearts. Let’s hope we don’t give Gale the same opportunity this Sunday. Despite sitting at the top of the table, Leeds have been a bit hit and miss with their performances this season. Good wins against Hull KR and Warrington, have been surrounded by poorer performances against Hull (30-4 loss) and Huddersfield (27-26 win). They’re still very much a work in progress and whilst they now appear to have some good attacking weapons, there are still question marks over their pack and their best side going forward. Their pack simply has to stand up this week against Saints, otherwise we will cause them a lot of problems. The key for Leeds will be to control James Roby at dummy half. It is not a sure-fire way to beat Saints but failing to do so will leave them with very little chance, so you can imagine Leeds will be looking to improve around the ruck this week. Leeds strengths appear to be on their left-hand side where they are strong defensively but its also where they get the most joy in their attack, like they did against Huddersfield. Leeds will be without Konrad Hurrell on Sunday which is a huge blow to their chances as he is very much a go to man in attack, especially when near their opponents line. 21 Man Squads Leeds Tom Briscoe, Harry Newman, Ash Handley, Rob Lui, Luke Gale, Ava Seumanufagai, Kruise Leeming, Matt Prior, Rhyse Martin, Brad Dwyer, Richie Myler, Adam Cuthbertson, Mikolaj Oledzki, Rhys Evans, Cameron Smith, Callum McLelland, Luke Briscoe, Alex Sutcliffe, Tom Holroyd, Jack Broadbent. St Helens Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, 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, Lewis Dodd, James Graham. The Saints name the same 21 man squad as last week and are likely to welcome back Matty Lees and Dom Peyroux to the side, having picked up no injuries last weekend. This will give Kristian Woolf a welcome headache as he plots what will be his best 17. Peyroux will likely come in for Joe Batchelor but who Matty Lees steps in for is a tough one. It is likely to be Kyle Amor, but he put in a very good performance against Catalans racking up 110 metres in a very solid performance, so it’d be very tough on him if he missed out this week. A full strength side does give us a luxury though and Woolf may decide to rotate his forwards each week if the injury situation remains as it is, to ensure thy are fresh and are all getting some game time. Referee – Chris Kendall Kick Off – Sunday 9th August, 6.30pm Venue – Headingley Stadium, Leeds Weather Forecast The current forecast suggests that it will be cloudy with a low chance of rain. Temperatures likely to be fairly warm, so will be once again ideal for a fast, open game. Head to Head Last 6 games – Saints 4 wins, Leeds 2 wins. Last meeting – Leeds 20 – 36 St Helens, Headingley, Att. 12,153. Our recent record against Leeds has been good having had a very mixed record against Leeds in the Super League era. We have won the last 4 encounters with the most recent being a comprehensive 36-20 victory at Headingley just over a year ago, the weekend before the Challenge Cup Final. Despite having a much stronger side than Leeds in the last few seasons, our matches have generally been very close apart from the last two games. A loss by 2 points, a loss by 8 points, a win by a point and a win by 5 points suggests that Leeds are still a bit of a thorn in Saints side. Saints will need to get to grip with Leeds offloading game and prevent the ball going to the wide players who can cause damage. Key Battles Jonny Lomax v Luke Gale – I seem to mention Jonny Lomax every week, but he is pivotal to our attack. He may not have been the stand out player last week but he still had a hand in a few of our tries and his link up play with Zeb Taia and Lachlan Coote is crucial to the balance of our attack. Leeds will be relying heavily on the ability of Luke Gale to create points on Sunday. His kicking game will be vital for Leeds and we all know what he is capable of when the scores are close. Alex Walmsley v Ava Seumanufagai – The two big men in the middle will be key to their sides go forward and are so often relied upon. Walmsley was devastating against Catalan clocking an impressive 152 metres and he is the leader of this big pack. Seumanufagai is a popular player at Leeds and whilst he didn’t have a great game against Huddersfield last week, he’s been a fairly consistent performer in his time at Leeds. Prediction Leeds will be looking to continue their unbeaten run and a win on Sunday will keep them at the top of the table, whilst knocking down the challenge of Saints who still remain one of the biggest threats this season. A win for Saints will put us right back in the mix for the top 4 and given the fixtures coming up Saints will be hunting the top teams down. The key for Saints will be to control the ruck and play off the back of the big forwards Graham and Walmsley. If our forwards get on top, Coote, Lomax and Roby could be very difficult to stop and that is where I believe we have the edge. Saints by 12.