Saints will try to revive their fading top four hopes when they host Widnes Vikings in a BetFred Super League Round 18 meeting on Friday (June 9, kick-off 8.00pm).
Justin Holbrook tasted defeat for the first time as Saints boss last weekend as his side went down 16-12 to Castleford Tigers at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle. It was a missed opportunity for Saints as the table-toppers were without several first choice players as Daryl Powell shuffled his pack in response to the heavy Bank Holiday schedule. By contrast Saints had the benefit of having 10 days to prepare for the game but still could not find a way around Powell’s under-strength selection. It was a huge disappointment after great wins over Hull FC and Wigan since Holbrook’s arrival, and leaves Saints seventh in the table, fully seven points behind surprise top four incumbents Wakefield Trinity.
No need to stress then just how important victory at home to Widnes is this week. Holbrook has trusted the same 19 who made the initial selection for the trip to West Yorkshire. That includes Theo Fages after he missed the Tigers loss with the head injury picked up in the win over Wigan a week earlier. Assuming Fages returns to the halves alongside Matty Smith then the major selection decisions seem to centre around the fullback and wing positions. Will Jonny Lomax return to his old fullback role after standing in for Fages last week? if he does, which two from Tommy Makinson, Adam Swift and Regan Grace will start on the wings? With Lomax on the road back from another injury it would be extroardinary to leave him out after just one game, so expect him to come in at last line of defence with Makinson and Grace on the wings. Swift looks like being the man to miss out with Ryan Morgan and Mark Percival featuring in the centres.
The front row is led as always by Alex Walmsley and James Roby with Kyle Amor and Luke Douglas likely to rotate in. There’s no place for Greg Richards and with Adam Walker now in Wakefield there may be some front row duties for Luke Thompson and, making his 300th career appearance, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Zeb Tai, Jon Wilkin and Morgan Knowles should start in the back row while one of Dominique Peyroux and Tommy Lee should also feature in the 17 if one of Lomax, Grace or Swift does not.
Widnes come in off the back of an impressive 26-6 win over Catalans Dragons last time out. It lifted them off the foot of the Super League table above the free-falling Leigh Centurions and followed on from a 28-20 success over Leeds Rhinos. Denis Betts’ side are in their best form of the season. Yet they’ll have to go to St Helens without all of Rhys Hanbury, Chris Bridge, Chris Dean, Patrick Ah Van, Joe Mellor and Tom Gilmour from their backline. Up front Lloyd White, Alex Gerrard, Greg Burke and MacGraff Leuleuia also miss out. Much will depend on the experience of Rangi Chase, Stefan Marsh, Danny Craven and 2016 scoring sensation Corey Thompson to create, while the likes of Hep Cahill, Manese Manuokofoa, Matt Whitley, Jack Buchanan, Chris Houston and Aaron Heremaia will carry the fight in the forwards.
Even with all the absentees for the Vikings it is very difficult to forecast a Saints win with any certainty. They need it badly, but they needed it badly in April when they went to Widnes and turned in an apologetic display in a 16-14 reverse. That loss came four days after a surprise victory over Castleford. Can Saints now follow up what turned out to be a surprise loss at the league leaders with what would be a much more heavily predicted win over a Widnes side which is, despite its recent form, heading for a relegation battle?
I just don’t know……
1. Jonny Lomax 2. Tommy Makinson 3. Ryan Morgan 4. Mark Percival 5. Adam Swift 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 17. Tommy Lee 18. Dominique Peyroux 20. Morgan Knowles 28. Regan Grace 36. Zeb Taia
2. Corey Thompson 4. Charly Runciman 8. Eamon O’Carroll 10. Jack Buchanan 11. Chris Houston 12. Matt Whitley 13. Hep Cahill 15. Gil Dudson 17. Stefan Marsh 20. Manese Manuokofoa 21. Jack Johnson 23. James Chapelhow 25. Tom Olbison 28. Ryan Ince 31. Jordan Johnstone 32. Danny Craven 33. Aaron Heremaia 39. Sam Wilde 40. Rangi Chase
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas