Like a drawn out death from an 80’s war film Saints’ bid to reach the top four staggers on when they host Hull FC in a BetFred Super League Round 21 match-up on Friday night (July 7, kick-off 8.00pm).
The miserable away from of Justin Holbrook’s side continued last week as they went down 24-22 to Leeds Rhinos at Headingley. Though there were positives to take from the performance it was a result which leaves Saints floundering in sixth in the standings and with chances running out if they are to finally make that push towards the playoff places. It also meant that Saints have still won only once away from home in Super League this year, not including the bewildering anomaly that was the 45-0 thrashing of the black and whites at Newcastle’s Magic Weekend back in May.
At home it has been a different story and there is every reason to believe that may continue as Saints get ready to meet Lee Radford’s side again. Only Wakefield and Huddersfield have left the stadium that dare not speak its name with anything other than a loss, and with memories of that Magic tonking still relatively fresh this may not be a trip that FC will relish. Despite Castleford’s inexorable march towards the League Leaders Shield Hull’s top four hopes are most definitely A Thing, and they will look to add another two points towards that end here.
Holbrook will be without two players who he would no doubt consider to be key, even if not all of the fan base would agree. Matty Smith and Jon Wilkin divide opinion like no other Saints players since gnarled 70’s front rower Billy Brexit. Nevertheless Smith’s absence as a result of the horrific eye injury suffered in the early moments at Leeds and Wilkin’s due to the one game ban handed out for his dangerous challenge on Mitch Garbutt will take away some much needed experience from the ranks.
In line to replace Smith at scrum half is Danny Richardson, a player whose legend grows with every game he doesn’t play. Holbrook has already intimated that Richardson will start alongside Theo Fages, meaning Jonny Lomax will remain at fullback. That will initiate a straight fight between Tommy Makinson, Regan Grace and Adam Swift for the two wing spots with the latter looking favourite to miss out. Mark Percival returns from his suspension and will start at centre alongside the improving Ryan Morgan.
Alex Walmsley continues to carry this Saints pack on his back, and Holbrook has sprung a surprise by including Matty Lees in his 19-man selection. The 19 year-old former Rochdale Mayfield amateur is drafted in to perhaps offer a jolt to the somnolent front row duo Kyle Amor and Luke Douglas, while Luke Thompson and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook offer further options in the middle. James Roby just keeps on keeping on at hooker with Tommy Lee likely to be offered his chance from the bench. Wilkin’s absence, while it leaves a gaping hole in the field of penalty concession and baffling kicks, also leaves a real void in that troublesome right hand second row position. Dominique Peyroux looks the likeliest contender after one of his better performances in a Saints shirt at Headingley, while Morgan Knowles can cover there, at 13 and also at nine if needs must. Zeb Taia continues unchallenged at left second row and is one of few real creative sparks in the Saints forward group.
FC come in without the seemingly ever-absent Gareth Ellis, but aside from that look a stronger outfit than the one which capitulated in Newcastle. Holbrook has been vocal about the difference that Fetuli Talanoa and Mahe Fonua could make, both having missed the Magic Weekend debacle, while Carlos Tuimavave is in line to return from a toe injury which forced him out of last week’s defeat by Castleford Tigers. Albert Kelly looks a genuine Man Of Steel Contender, while Jamie Shaul, Marc Sneyd and the excellent Jake Connor all offer further creativity for the KCom Stadium outfit. Hull’s pack is a fearsome prospect also, with Liam Watts, Scott Taylor, Sika Manu, Danny Houghton and Mark Miniciello all standouts.
This third meeting of the season between the two (stand by for at least one more before we are done with 2017) will decide the outcome of the Steve Prescott Cup. Played between the sides in honour of the former fullback of both sides and champion fundraiser since his tragic death in 2013, the winner will be decided on aggregate scores across all meetings in the regular season. That gives Saints a pretty handy lead, with that 45-0 romp having followed Hull’s rather more modest looking 24-10 success at the KCom in March.
Which if nothing else should mean that Saints pick up at least one piece of silverware from this ghastly season.
- Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 20. Morgan Knowles, 24. Danny Richardson, 28. Regan Grace, 32. Matty Lees, 36. Zeb Taia.
- Jamie Shaul, 2. Mahe Fonua, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Fetuli Talanoa, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Liam Watts, 12. Mark Minichiello, 14. Jake Connor, 16. Jordan Thompson, 17. Danny Washbrook, 21. Sika Manu, 22. Josh Bowden, 25. Jansin Turgut, 28. Brad Fash, 29. Masimbaashe Matongo.
Referee: Phil Bentham