There’s no rest for the Totally Wicked as out-of-form Saints travel to Perpignan to take on Catalans Dragons in a BetFred Super League Round 5 meeting on Saturday (March 18, kick-off 5.00pm).
Keiron Cunningham’s side suffered another damaging defeat as they went down 24-14 at Hull FC last time out, and enter this one with just one win from their first four Super League assignments. Currently sitting a disturbing 10th in the early Super League standings another defeat here, while not all that unlikely, is also somewhat unthinkable. It’s early, but one win from five would be an indication that this is a team destined for the ignominy of the Middle Eight Qualifiers and a first play-off absence in Super League history.
It is somewhat surprising then to note that Cunningham has chosen exactly the same 19-men for this one as he did for the loss at the KCom. Some would argue that the definition of insanity is doing exactly the same things over and over and expecting a different result. Nevertheless, get set for another appearance at halfback for Jon Wilkin. Much derided for his poor kick in the dying moments of the Hull defeat, Wilkin looks set to be the main man once again with Danny Richardson again omitted. Theo Fages showed some signs of creativity particularly in the second half against Lee Radford’s side and offers some hope of a spark in midfield, while in the three-quarters we can fully expect Jack Owens to continue to keep his place on the right wing. There has been some calls for either Regan Grace or Calvin Wellington to be given a call-up particularly in the wake of what Wigan’s young Liams Marshall and Forsyth did to Warrington a week ago, but Cunningham has again opted for age before beauty. In the centres Mark Percival and Ryan Morgan provide hope along with the speedy but error-prone Adam Swift on the left wing.
In the pack Zeb Taia will come up against his old side in only his third appearance for Saints since joining from Gold Coast Titans, while Dominique Peyroux was somehow not charged with a shoulder charge against the black and whites and will probably partner Taia in the second row. Morgan Knowles will lock the scrum while it would probably be wise for Cunningham to start Alex Walmsley along with any one from Kyle Amor, Adam Walker or Luke Douglas at prop. Walmsley’s indiscipline cost Saints ultimately in East Yorkshire but there were times in that second half when he was starting to look back to his unplayable best. Bringing the storm, if you will. James Roby should be a certain starter at hooker given the minimal impact of Tommy Lee so far, though it would surprise nobody to see the former England international introduced from the bench. Jack Ashworth, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Greg Richards make up the 19 and will be among those scrambling for a place on the bench.
The most intriguing thing about the Dragons from a Saints point of view is perhaps the presence in their side of Luke Walsh. The Australian spent three seasons at Langtree Park displaying varying degrees of form before his perceived desire to go back to the NRL set in motion the chain of events which brought the currently crocked Matty Smith back to St Helens. Walsh did not get that move back down under and will, along with former Warrington half Richie Myler, provide much of the creativity for a Dragons side which includes the excellent and returning Krisnan Inu as well as Brayden Williame, Fouad Yaha but is shorn of the services of perhaps its biggest threat in the shape of the free-scoring Jodie Broughton who misses out with injury.
Greg Bird is another key absence for Catalans in the pack, along with Louis Anderson but in Paul Aiton, Justin Horo, Remi Casty and Jason Baitieri there is plenty of fire-power to worry an out of-sorts Saints forward unit.
The corresponding fixture in 2016 saw Saints suffer a 33-16 defeat but also signalled the start of a wretched run-in by the Dragons who fell in a heap to allow Saints to sneak past them into that all-important fourth play-off spot by the end of August. If Saints lose again in Perpignan they will fall five points behind the Dragons at this early stage of the campaign, and worries will grow that the points tally of the top sides is no longer something with which we need concern ourselves. Yet Widnes Vikings have already proven this season that the Stade Gilbert Brutus is not the impenetrable fortress that it is held up to be in earning a 14-14 draw there a fortnight ago, and Saints are quite desperate to go one better here.
- Krisnan Inu, 4. Brayden Wiliame, 5. Fouad Yaha, 6. Luke Walsh, 7. Richie Myler, 8. Sam Moa, 9. Paul Aiton, 10. Rémi Casty, 12. Justin Horo, 14. Julian Bousquet, 15. Ben Garcia, 16. Thomas Bosc, 17. Jason Baitieri, 18. Vincent Duport, 19. Mickael Simon, 20. Luke Burgess, 21. Iain Thornley, 23. Alrix Da Costa, 25. Thibaud Margalet.
- Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Adam Walker, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Morgan Knowles, 21. Jack Owens, 23. Jack Ashworth, 36. Zeb Taia.
Referee: Phil Bentham