Justin Holbrook officially takes charge of his first BetFred Super League game as Saints host local rivals Wigan Warriors in a Round 15 clash on Thursday night (May 25, kick-off 8.00pm).
The new Saints Head Coach was involved in last week’s dumbfounding Magic Weekend larruping of Hull FC but having only arrived in the UK a day or two earlier left much of the responsibility to interim coaches Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor. Now he takes full control looking to build on that outstanding and wholly unexpected success over Lee Radford’s side.
A performance so dominant was always likely to lead to very few changes in personnel. If it ain’t broke and all that. With that probably in mind Holbrook has chosen exactly the same 19 who were on duty for the trip to Newcastle and, barring any late health or fitness concerns will probably select the same match day 17. Sixteen of the 17 which capitulated at Castleford in the Challenge Cup a week ago were given a chance to make amends in the Hull game, so certainly deserve a chance to build on their excellent showing in that 45-0 win.
That will mean that Tommy Makinson will continue at fullback in the continued absence of Jonny Lomax and amid strong rumours that Ben Barba could be arriving shortly to take the position of his hands. Such an outcome is likely to place more pressure on Adam Swift than it will Makinson who has performed admirably for the most part at fullback but is a devastating finisher on the wing also. His chances have been limited in a mediocre Saints side this year but he demonstrated his ability during an epic length of the field effort at St James Park. He’s just someone you want in your team regardless, whereas Swift appears more prone to error. For now though he will remain outside the improving Ryan Morgan with Mark Percival partnering Regan Grace on the other side of Saints’ three-quarter line.
Neither Theo Fages or Matty Smith are under too much pressure for their places in the halves at the moment and both will operate behind a pack that was unrecognisable from recent weeks in its assault on the Hull FC forward group. Alex Walmsley’s two tries were just a small part of a spectacular performance and he will lead the way again with a seemingly revitalised James Roby and Kyle Amor completing the front row. Zeb Taia is a dead cert for the left second row berth while skipper Jon Wilkin slots in on the right, with Morgan Knowles likely to start at loose forward. He will share game time with Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Tommy Lee, while Walmsley and Amor will be spelled by Luke Douglas and Luke Thompson. Greg Richards and Dominique Peyroux will hope to force their way into the 17 but appear set to miss out unless there are any late dramas.
Wigan, being Wigan, have brought back another two of their stars for the visit to St.Helens. It’s one of the ancient wonders of the world how Wigan players manage to climb off the treatment table when a derby is close at hand, so kudos to both Tommy Leuleuai and Sam Powell for recovering in time for this reddest of red letter days on the Wigan calendar. Leuleuai will slot in at half alongside the excellent George Williams, while Powell will likely share hooking duties with Micky McIlorum.
There is not so much good news elsewhere for Pie Minister and Wigan Head Coach Shaun Wane as both Tony Clubb and Ben Flower are missing from the front row for the remainder of the year. John Bateman is another long-term casualty in the pack while in the backs Morgan Escare, Dom Manfredi, Oliver Gildart and Anthony Gelling all miss out also. And I almost forgot Sam Tomkins, a man who apparently used to play rugby league terribly well but whose only intrigue to rugby league fans now is what colour beard he will turn up with for his Sky punditry.
With so many regulars still out look for youngsters Liam Marshall, Liam Forsythe, Tom Davies, Nick Gregson to continue their Super League education, while 19-year-old Callum Field also makes the initial 19-man selection.
Often depleted, Wigan have been experiencing almost as many traumas as Saints this season but fought gamely to earn a late 24-24 draw at Warrington at the Magic Weekend. That left them an underwhelming sixth in the table, six points behind pace-setters Castleford Tigers. Yet the system allows them not to worry too much about that, so their eyes might be more keenly fixed on making up the two points on Leeds Rhinos that are required to haul them back into the top four. With players returning, Wigan will probably be in the mix come September.
But will they be strong enough at this juncture to fight off a Saints side coming in off the back of a mesmeric walloping of an equally genuine contender in Hull FC? It would be folly to predict anything regarding Saints given how the last few weeks have gone, but the hope is that with Holbrook now in place consistency of performance will be easier to come by. But a note of caution. This is Saints. Truly anything could happen here.
- 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, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Morgan Knowles, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia.
- Joe Burgess, 6. George Williams, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 8. Frank-Paul Nuuausala, 9. Michael Mcilorum, 11. Joel Tomkins, 12. Liam Farrell, 13. Sean O’Loughlin, 16. Sam Powell, 17. Taulima Tautai, 19. Ryan Sutton, 20. Willie Isa, 21. Lewis Tierney, 23. Nick Gregson, 28. Jack Wells, 32. Liam Forsyth, 35. Liam Marshall, 36. Tom Davies, 37. Callum Field.
Referee: Phil Bentham