It’s not so much bouncing back but avoiding another abject, humiliating defeat which will be on the agenda for Saints as they host Wakefield Trinity in a BetFred Super League Round Three clash on Friday night (March 3, kick-off 8.00pm).
Keiron Cunningham’s travelled to Leigh Centurions last week on the back of a morale-boosting win over Leeds Rhinos and a fortnight off to recover before taking on Neil Jukes’ newly promoted side. None of which helped one jot as they slipped to a barely credible 24-16 defeat, and that after falling behind 18-0 early on. It provoked more questions about Cunningham’s coaching ability and the ability of more than a handful of his playing staff, almost as if nothing has changed since last year’s tear-inducing slog to the top four.
What will change this week is the make-up of the squad. Injury robs Saints of the services of both Jonny Lomax and Luke Douglas, the latter having fractured a finger in an elaborate ruse to avoid being dropped after two fairly dismal opening performances in the red vee. Tommy Makinson is likely to fill in for Lomax at full-back, with either Jack Owens, Calvin Wellington or maybe even Super Dominique Peyroux filling in on the wing. Makinson is as good if not better than Lomax as a defensive fullback but it is difficult to see how Saints will not miss Lomax’s impact in attack where his range of passing and handling skills offer something a little different to Saints’ often sterile play. Whoever comes in to Makinson’s right-wing slot will make-up a three-quarter line that should feature Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival and Adam Swift again with Theo Fages and Danny Richardson fighting off loose forward and occasional tackling machine Jon Wilkin for the playmaking duties.
The other eye-brow raising inclusion in the initial 19-man squad is that of new signing Zeb Taia. The former Gold Coast Titan secured his visa earlier this week before hastily hopping on board a flight to Manchester in a bid to be ready for this one. Cynics are suggesting that he has been included as a marketing ploy and may not actually make the final 17 on the day, but for now we can be wildly optimistic and suggest that he will hold down one second row berth with either Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Peyroux or Morgan Knowles occupying the other. In the front row Adam Walker still awaits his debut and with Douglas out and with the rest of the pack having performed fairly miserably at Leigh there has to be a good chance that he will finally get that chance against Chris Chester’s side. Alex Walmsley, Kyle Amor and Luke Thompson should also feature, with Cunningham no doubt persisting in trying to get a tune out of Tommy Lee at hooker to allow James Roby to play less minutes.
A key absence for Trinity is that of winger Ben Jones-Bishop. The former Leeds Rhino scored a try against Huddersfield Giants last week that was so good that both sides would have been forgiven for packing up and going home immediately, so rare is this kind of thing in the modern energy battle. He embarked on a mazy, 80-metre run twisting the blood of Giants all around him, and his absence will be a huge relief to a Saints defence which allowed Atelea Vea to stroll through it untouched less than seven days ago. Also missing for Trinity will be former Hull KR front rower Mitch Allgood, but there is still plenty of quality in an improving outfit which while suffering defeats in its first two games against Hull FC and the Giants has done so narrowly in each. The likes of Scott Grix, Tom Johnstone, Reece Lyne and former Catalans and NRL man Sam Williams provide plenty of threat in the backs, while in the dogfight men like Anthony England, Danny Kirmond and Craig Huby could upset Saints good on paper but slightly startled pack.
In days of yore these types of fixtures were foregone conclusions but one suspects that is not the case any more. This is a tough, always competitive Wakefield side which will only succumb to a Saints side which is a good deal more clinical and defensively resilient than it was during last week’s debacle at the Leigh Sports Village.
- 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, 15. Adam Walker, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 20. Morgan Knowles, 21. Jack Owens, 24. Danny Richardson, 27. Calvin Wellington, 36. Zeb Taia.
- Scott Grix, 2. Tom Johnstone, 3. Bill Tupou, 4. Reece Lyne, 6. Jacob Miller, 7. Liam Finn, 8. Anthony England, 9. Kyle Wood, 11. Matty Ashurst, 12. Danny Kirmond, 13. Mikey Sio, 14. Sam Williams, 15. Ashley Gibson, 16. Tinirau Arona, 17. Craig Huby, 18. Joe Arundel, 20. David Fifita, 26. Chris Annakin, 27. James Batchelor.
Referee: James Child