It’s way past chucking out time but Saints steadfastly refuse to leave Last Chance Saloon as their top four bid continues with a home clash with Huddersfield Giants on Friday night (September 15, kick-off 8.00pm).
Justin Holbrook’s side were minutes away from virtual elimination from the semi-final race at Wakefield last week, before Jonny Lomax pounced on an inexplicable error from Trinity fullback Scott Grix to keep Saints alive and spark all manner of Never-Write-Off-The-Saints-ness among the fans and media alike. Two wins out of two will be enough for Saints should Castleford beat either Wigan or Hull FC in their last two outings of the Super 8s, a situation that seems barely credible given where the team were when Holbrook took over and given some of the performances both before and after his arrival.
He has made just one change to the 19-man squad this week from that which travelled to Wakefield. Kyle Amor was omitted last week, although he could be seen in full kit in the build-up to kick-off against Chris Chester’s side presumably as a precaution in the event that Alex Walmsley’s ascent into fatherhood should happen early. This time the former Wakefield man is included in the 19 at the expense of Matty Lees despite the youngster’s encouraging debut last week.
Again selection issues centre around the halves and on just how you solve a problem like Ben Barba. The Australian star has played at fullback in each of his two Saints performances so far but has looked well short of the level of fitness required. The sight of him waving a virtual white flag in pursuit of Trinity’s Ben Tupou was an alarming one, but the feeling is that Holbrook will persevere with the former Cronulla Sharks man. He has the option of benching Barba and restoring Lomax to the fullback position but it seems more likely that Lomax will come into contention for a place in the halves alongside Danny Richardson. The experiment of using Lomax in the centres should not be necessary again with Ryan Morgan set to return from a head injury. So Holbrook looks like facing a straight choice between Lomax and Theo Fages at stand-off, with Matty Smith again set to miss out as Richardson looks to really nail down that starting halfback slot. The three-quarters pick themselves, with wingers Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace keeping Adam Swift out of the picture and Mark Percival partnering Morgan at centre.
The merits of Walmsley’s early exit last week was a matter of some debate but he should be available for the full trip this time out after the birth of his son Atticus. Amor is in contention to start at prop also, although the excellent and ever-improving Luke Thompson may get the nod along with Luke Douglas with both Walmsley and Amor coming off the bench. Zeb Taia and Jon Wilkin will feature in the back row and of course James Roby at hooker, with Morgan Knowles, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Dominique Peyroux competing for the final places in the 17.
Huddersfield have drifted out of the race in recent weeks, with their 52-14 loss to Salford Red Devils last time out all but sealing their fate. They go in to this one still without 2017 revelation and star turn Jake Mamo, while the back division is also shorn of Leroy Cudjoe and Aaron Murphy. Former Saint Jordan Turner could feature after returning to Super League from Canberra Raiders earlier this season, while much of the creativity will again come from Danny Brough at halfback perhaps alongside Jordan Rankin with Martin Ridyard set to miss out. Jermaine McGillvary has 19 tries this term and will provide a stiff test for Saints’ left hand edge defence and in particular the relatively diminutive Grace.
Shannon Wakeman, Tom Symonds and Sebastine Ikahihifo are the key absentees from the pack for Rick Stone’s side, so the onus will be on Toulouse-bound Sam Rapira aswell as Ryan Hinchcliffe, Kruise Leeming and Alex Mellor to try to get on top of Saints’ currently brittle pack.
Huddersfield are the only team that Saints have yet to beat in 2017, which is a fairly staggering statistic in what has been a hugely underwhelming season. The teams drew 14-14 at what we still like to call Langtree Park in April in what turned out to be Keiron Cunningham’s last game in charge of his home town team, while the Giants emerged with a 24-16 win when the teams met at the John Smith’s Stadium in June. A repeat of that this week would almost certainly end Saints’ interest in a visit to Old Trafford but looks unlikely given their strong home form, the lack of incentive for the visitors and the absence of a few too many of their regulars.
- Jonny Lomax 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival (pictured), 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 20. Morgan Knowles, 24. Danny Richardson, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia, 37. Ben Barba.
- Jermaine McGillvary, 4. Lee Gaskell, 6. Danny Brough, 8. Sam Rapira, 9. Ryan Hinchcliffe, 12. Dale Ferguson, 13. Michael Lawrence, 14. Kruise Leeming, 16. Oliver Roberts, 17. Ukuma Ta’ai, 18. Paul Clough, 20. Daniel Smith, 22. Tyler Dickinson, 23. Sam Wood, 24. Darnell McIntosh, 30. Alex Mellor, 31. Adam O’Brien, 34. Jordan Turner, 35. Jordan Rankin.
Referee: Gareth Hewer