Stumbling Saints will try to restart their spluttering season when they host Huddersfield Giants in a BetFred Super League Round 8 meeting this Friday night (April 7, kick-off 8.00pm).
The Totally Wicked Saints suffered another set-back in losing 22-14 at Salford last time out, and find themselves in the bottom half of the table with almost a third of the regular season gone. It was a fourth defeat from seven for Keiron Cunnigham’s side in the league in what has been a stop-start campaign. Victory over Rick Stone’s Giants (sounds like a wrestling team, probably looks like one too at times) is vital with scary games at Wigan and at home to Castleford looming large over Easter.
Let’s start with some good news then. Adam Swift has not only returned to the squad after missing the Salford defeat with a shoulder injury, but also signed a new two-year contract keeping him at the club until the end of the 2019 season. Swift’s pace was sorely missed at the AJ Bell Stadium and while he still makes too many mistakes with the ball in hand in his own half the former Blackbrook man has scored 73 tries in 99 appearances since making his Saints debut in 2012. He is in line to make his 100th appearance as Jack Owens drops out of contention. Cover for the backs is instead provided by Matty Fleming should any of Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival or Swift suffer any mishaps.
Also fit enough to make the 19-man selection is Theo Fages. The French half staggered out of the Salford game in the first minute after landing heavily on his head, prompting fears that a concussion could keep him on the sidelines for this one. Yet he takes his place and is likely to figure alongside Matty Smith in the halves. That means that Jon Wilkin can revert to the loose forward position where he has been far more effective since the return of Smith, although the absence of James Roby from this week’s squad could see Fages used as an interchange hooker and Wilkin shoe-horned once again, manically into the organisation room.
Roby’s absence has been confirmed as the result of a knee injury. That lays to rest any notions of Cunningham resting his top man against allegedly inferior opponents. Resting a player of his quality is something that Saints sides of yore could afford to do. This one does not appear to have that luxury, especially in a game which has taken on extra significance since the defeat to Salford and in the context of the challenges ahead over the Bank Holiday weekend. If Fages is not the one to back up likely starter Tommy Lee then perhaps Morgan Knowles could fill in for a spell having had some first team experience at nine before. Either way Saints will miss Roby’s dynamism, and his ability to lead by example along with his sheer work rate.
The rest of the pack needs to pick up its performance considerably from last week. Alex Walmsley was outstanding in a losing cause alongside Roby but of the others only Luke Douglas and Zeb Taia made over 100 metres. Kyle Amor, Adam Walker, Dominique Peyroux and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook will all feature again, though hopefully Peyroux will not have to fill in at centre again as he did during the second half at Salford. Luke Thompson is still not fit to return while it was announced this week by Cunningham that Jack Ashworth has an ankle injury likely to keep him out for up to six weeks. Greg Richards makes up the 19 but it would be a surprise to see him feature despite the underwhelming form of the Saints front line last week.
Huddersfield come to St Helens in arguably even worse shape than their hosts, languishing in 10th place with only two wins from their first seven matches. Their best result so far this year was probably the 16-16 draw they earned at Wigan three weeks ago, but this is a side which was nilled at Leigh and which was drubbed 52-16 by an admittedly rampant Castleford only last week. Their only wins have come against Wakefield Trinity and Widnes Vikings. A season of struggle appears in store for the 2013 League Leaders.
Ryan Brierley is the glaring omission from Stone’s selection but that loss is offset and then some by the return of Danny Brough from suspension. The former Man Of Steel engaged in a bout of handbags with Carl Ablett of Leeds a fortnight ago and missed the defeat to Castleford for his troubles, but returns here to add several extra dimensions to the Giants attack. Back rower Tom Symonds is still out while Michael Lawrence and former Wakefield man Daniel Smith are also absent from the squad. Sam Rapira, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ukuma Ta’ai and Sebastine Ikahihifo will be charged with taking it to the Saints pack while in the backs Jermaine McGillvary is a world class performer with handy support in the shape of Aaron Murphy and Leroy Cudjoe. Former Saint Lee Gaskell will look to feature in Brierley’s absence while another ex-Saint Paul Clough is also among those making the trip west for the Giants.
On paper this game looks as winnable as it is vital for Saints, but a Roby-less Saints is always a worrying prospect. This is a team which can literally lose to anyone if it manages to get bogged down in a forward battle and if it can’t get that left edge of Percival, Taia and Swift into the game regularly enough. Yet with their place in the top eight potentially on the line expect Saints to have just about enough to secure what would be a priceless home win going into those horrific holiday fixtures.
- Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 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, 22. Matty Fleming, 36. Zeb Taia.
- Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Leroy Cudjoe, 4. Lee Gaskell, 5. Aaron Murphy, 6. Danny Brough, 8. Sam Rapira, 9. Ryan Hinchcliffe, 10. Shannon Wakeman, 12. Dale Ferguson, 14. Kruise Leeming, 15. Sebastine Ikahihifo, 16. Oliver Roberts, 17. Ukuma Ta’ai, 18. Paul Clough, 19. Nathan Mason, 22. Tyler Dickinson, 23. Sam Wood, 24. Darnell McIntosh, 30. Alex Mellor.
Referee: Chris Campbell