Sydney Roosters (H) – World Club Challenge Preview Phil Jones 20th February 2020 2020 Match Previews, 2020 Season The Saints hit the summit of Super League again last weekend following a good performance on Humberside against Hull FC, following an early 2nd half blitz to take the spoils. Some fans on social media were starting to worry about Saints form at half time, as we had failed to score a try in 130 minutes, but our attack clicked in the 2nd half and in particular Jonny Lomax’s influence started to become more obvious as he created three tries with a sublime Man of the Match performance. Hull FC were unbeaten going into the game and are heavily fancied by many to be title contenders in 2020, but simply could not handle Saints speed and power up front, so this was a bit of a statement performance from Saints after the setback at Warrington a week prior. Saints previous starts during seasons when we have been involved in the World Club Challenge game have been hit and miss, so it is good that we’ve started the season well and whatever happens on Saturday, haven’t got to play catch up to the other sides. The Saints will now face their biggest test of the season against the current NRL and World Champions, the Sydney Roosters, in what is likely to be a big crowd at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Saturday evening. Tickets still remain in the East Stand, but a big crowd is expected so get your tickets early to avoid disappointment. You can purchase tickets from here https://tickets.saintsrlfc.com/fixtures.aspx Our Opponents Sydney Roosters were worthy Champions in 2020, having finished 2nd in the regular season and then went on to beat the Canberra Raiders in the Grand Final following a 14-8 victory. It was the Roosters defence that won them that game as Canberra had the majority of the ball and territory but struggled to break the Roosters resistance. There were some controversial calls during the game, but finals are often won on solid defences and that’s what the Roosters had. They scored 627 points (2nd best) and conceded 363 points (2nd best) during the league campaign, marking a very consistent season but it is their big game ability which impresses most as they turn the consistency into a ruthless streak when it matters, especially defensively. The Roosters have made just one new signing for 2020, with Kyle Flanagan replacing the retired Cooper Cronk in the halves. The Roosters have also lost Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney) and Zane Tetevano (Penrith) which makes them slightly weaker in 2020, but the bulk of their squad remains in place and therefore you imagine they will once again be strong contenders to win a 3rd successive title. The Roosters have not had any trial games but were involved in the nines tournament, in which the Roosters won a game and lost a game and went out in the group stage, so the World Club Challenge will be their first full hit out of the season. 21 Man Squads St Helens Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Joseph Paulo, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Matty Costello, Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd, Tom Nisbet Sydney Roosters James Tedesco , Daniel Tupou, Angus Crichton, Joseph Manu, Brett Morris, Luke Keary, Kyle Flanagan, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend (c), Siosiua Taukeiaho, Sitili Tupouniua, Mitchell Aubusson, Victor Radley, Sam Verrills, Isaac Liu, Nat Butcher, Lindsay Collins, Matt Ikuvalu , Poasa Faamausili, Asu Kepaoa, Lachlan Lam The Saints will be without Regan Grace (concussion) who has failed a HIA after picking up the injury at the weekend against Hull FC and Lachlan Coote (knee) who still recovers from his injury picked up in round one. Mark Percival is named in the 21-man squad despite Saints ruling him out for several months last week. His surgery is scheduled for next week, so Saints will be trying to nurse him through the game before he gets fixed up, should he be selected. James Roby is named in the squad for the 1st time this season and is expected to start the game on Saturday. Referee – Chris Kendall Kick Off – Saturday 22nd February, 7.45pm Venue – The Totally Wicked Stadium Weather Forecast The current weather forecast is expected to be fairly cold and wet, with temperatures expected to be around 8 degrees. This will slow the game down and could make the game a bit of a forward battle. Both teams are strong up front, so will be quite comfortable with the conditions. Head to Head Head to Head – Saints 0 wins, Sydney Roosters 3 wins. Last meeting – St Helens 12 – 38 Sydney Roosters, Totally Wicked Stadium, Att. 14,008. The Saints record against the Roosters is poor having lost all previous three games between the sides and by very comfortable margins. We failed to score tries in two of the three games and it is Sydney’s mean defence that Saints have struggled to breach in the past. Saints are up against history and the odds for Saturday’s game. Despite this, we’ve always gone into our games with the Roosters as huge underdogs, and whilst we’ll be underdogs again this Saturday it should be much closer. This is arguably the best Saints team that the Roosters will have faced, so that makes it an intriguing battle especially if Walmsley and Thompson can play like they did in last year’s Grand Final. Key Battles Luke Thompson v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves – This is an early opportunity for Luke Thompson to show the NRL sides what they can expect in 2021 – following his move to the Canterbury Bulldogs – as he faces off against a strong Roosters pack led by Waerea-Hargreaves. Thompson is in good form averaging nearly 127m per game in 2020 with an average gain of nearly 8 metres. Hargreaves is the monster in the Roosters pack and averaged 141 metres per game in 2019 with 16 offloads during the season making him a tough prospect to play against. His battle with Thompson will be a fantastic match up. Jonny Lomax v Luke Keary – Both Stand Offs will play a key role in their sides’ offence this Saturday. Keary created 22 tries in the NRL in 2019, whilst Lomax created 21 tries in Super League in 2019. Keary’s combination with Tedesco and Cronk, made the Roosters a huge attacking threat and it’ll be interesting to see how Keary combines with Flanagan this season. Lomax has started the 2020 season where he left off with 6 assists in three games so far and is the key to our attack. Prediction It’s going to be a very tough game for Saints, there’s no doubt about it. The loss of Coote and Grace are big losses to the backline and that will make points harder to come by. The key for Saints will be to get on top in the forward battle to give the likes of Roby, Lomax and Fages opportunities near the Roosters line. Thompson and Walmsley have been outstanding for over a year now and once again will lead the side forward. If we take our opportunities there is every chance we can win, and belief will be key on Saturday. We will need to be better disciplined than recent weeks and make sure we don’t give the Roosters cheap possession. A repeat of the Grand Final performance will give us a good chance. Roosters will be favourites and whilst I expect they will probably win this game, I’m going to be optimistic for the purposes of the preview and go for a 2007 World Club Challenge inspired performance. Saints by 4.