It was a night of ‘what ifs’ for Saints in the World Club Challenge against the Roosters last Saturday night, as we bravely lost 20-12 in an exciting match at the Totally Wicked Stadium. The Saints came out the traps very quickly and opened the scoring through Luke Thompson following a lovely inside pass from Theo Fages. The Roosters soon got on top though and it looked like Saints were holding on for large periods of the 1st half. The Roosters speed around the ruck and ability to take the ball to the line was the difference and despite Saints hanging on, we did crack a couple of times for the Roosters to go in 8-6 up at half time.
The game was very nip and tuck in the 2nd half and despite a mountain of possession, Saints just couldn’t force their way over despite having 3 or 4 very good chances to score tries. You do wonder if we’d have been more clinical if Lachlan Coote, Mark Percival and Regan Grace had been fit. Ultimately it was the Roosters clinical attack that won the game as they sucker punched us with two tries in the final quarter of the game to take the game away from us. A 20-6 result would’ve been harsh though and late Alex Walmsley try was well deserved to bring the score to within 8 points and give it a truer reflection of how close the game was.
Despite losing the game, it was a very fiercely contested match and Trent Robinson acknowledged after the game his side had been in a really tough battle and on another day, Saints would’ve taken those chances. Whilst it was disappointing to lose, given the backs we had missing it was a very respectable performance and if we can replicate that type of performance in the big games, we will be absolutely fine this season.
The Saints will face Toronto for the very first team in their short history this Saturday, and we don’t have to travel too far as we head up the road to Warrington to face them at the HJ Stadium. The HJ Stadium is a very happy hunting ground for Saints, despite the recent defeat there in round two against Warrington, so the Saints will go there confident.
Toronto have yet to win a game this season and are the bookies favourites to go down. They did come very close at the weekend though, coincidentally at the HJ Stadium as they lost out 32-22 to Warrington, with a late score taking the game away from Toronto.
Toronto have a very thin squad and are still trying to find the balance between having enough quality and enough depth to survive the season and stay in Super League. I believe the way they have handled their salary cap has been very poor, but I don’t think they’ve had a great deal of support from the RFL, Super League or the Super League clubs. Catalans were given time to grow and were exempt from relegation originally, so it does seem unfair that Toronto aren’t afforded the same time to develop.
Toronto will be heavily reliant on the likes of Gareth O’Brien, Ricky Leutele, Jon Wilkin, SBW and Tony Gigot to help them pick up points over the next few months as it is a squad and side lacking in SL / NRL experience. Despite being bottom with no wins, they’ve competed hard in all their games so far and have certainly given a good account of themselves. They’ve had a tough opening four games too facing four of last season’s top five and now face the Champions Saints, so their fixture list should become a little kinder for them soon.
21 Man Squads
Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Joseph Paulo, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Matty Costello, Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd
The Saints have named a strong squad for Saturday’s game with Regan Grace and Jack Ashworth returning with Mark Percival and Tom Nisbet dropping out. There aren’t likely to be many changes from last weekend’s game. Grace will go back onto the wing, therefore it is likely to be between James Bentley and Matty Costello for the Centre spot.
Toronto have yet to their name their 21 man squad at the time of publishing.
Referee – M. Griffiths
Kick Off – Saturday 29th February, 6pm
Venue – The HJ Stadium, Warrington
The weather is expected to be cloudy but fairly dry for most of the day with temperatures likely to be around 5 degree come kick off.
Head to Head
The Saints have yet to meet Toronto in any competitive or friendly fixture, therefore there is no previous head to head to refer to.
Kevin Naqiama v Ricky Leutele – This should be a good battle between two very good centres. Leutele is one of Toronto’s marquee players and Naiqama had a fantastic 2019. He’s been moved about a little bit in 2020 due to injuries but has recently been playing back in his natural Centre role. Saints right hand edge will be tested by Leutele and Russell but Toronot will also be aware of the threat Naiqama and Makinson offer too.
Morgan Knowles v Sonny Bill Williams – Youth takes on experience in an intriguing battle of the Loose Forwards. I’m not 100% sure where SBW will line up yet, he may be on the bench but he’s likely to come into the back row once on the field. Knowles had a good game against the Roosters following his recovery from surgery in the off season and will certainly be looking to make an impression against Sonny Bill.
The Saints will be looking to bounce back and start to build some momentum in Super League. Despite playing a game less than most teams, we currently sit 4th on the ladder so we’re in a very healthy position so far. Toronto are fighting desperately to get their 1st win and they are a danger for that reason. If they were losing convincingly each week, you wouldn’t be overly concerned about meeting them, but they are getting closer and that makes this game a danger, if complacency and mental fatigue following the World Club Challenge game kicks in. Despite performing well last Saturday, the loss will have stung and therefore I predict Saints minds will be refocussed on the league now. Regan Grace will be back in and we’ve not picked up any fresh injuries from the World Club Challenge game so I’m confident we will score some points. Saints by 18.