One of Super League’s biggest rivalries resumes this weekend, albeit with slightly unusual stakes for both Saints and Warrington as they meet at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday night (May 5, kick-off 8.00pm).
Two of the powerhouses of Super League over the recent past, Saints and Warrington find themselves involved in a battle to make the top eight before the end of the regular season leads into the Super 8s after Round 23. Both are precariously positioned, with Saints sitting seventh and the Wolves languishing in ninth after 12 rounds of action.
With a new appointment imminent the interim coaching trio of Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor have gone about their business as normal, selecting a much changed 19-man squad for a variety of reasons. Chief among these is the England v Samoa international taking place at Campbelltown in Australia this weekend in which both Mark Percival and Alex Walmsley hope to play some part. Percival’s place in the squad is filled not by Matty Fleming who turned in some encouraging performances in the recent absence of Ryan Morgan, but by Jake Spedding who has been out on loan at Championship side Sheffield Eagles. Greg Richards comes in for Walmsley, though Saints will be relieved to have Adam Walker available after he submitted an early guilty plea and so avoided a suspension for punching Eloi Pelissier in last week’s home win over Leigh Centurions.
Kyle Amor was rested for that one but should feature here, with Luke Douglas and Luke Thompson also options in the front row. Thompson has been used at loose forward a lot in recent weeks but the return of James Roby after injury could see Morgan Knowles relieved of the duty of backing up at hooker and instead operating in that back row role. Jon Wilkin and Zeb Taia are the men in possession of the shirts in the second row with Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Dominique Peyroux pushing for game time also.
In the backs Jonny Lomax is likely to be out for another five to six weeks so Tommy Makinson will continue at fullback. That offers a reprieve for Adam Swift, whose right wing berth might come under threat once Lomax returns and Makinson reverts to his old role. That’s down to the emergence of Regan Grace on the left wing. The young Welsh flyer faces a different challenge this week without Percival alongside him on the left edge and it will be interesting to see if he can form a partnership with Spedding out there should he get the nod. Another option may be to move Taia inside to centre and start with one of McCarthy-Scarsbrook or Peyroux, though it would be preferable to see Spedding get an opportunity rather than reverting to the square peggery which hamstrung the Keiron Cunningham tenure. Without either Fleming or Percival Morgan seems a certain starter at right centre, with Theo Fages and Matty Smith again trying to build on their budding halfback partnership.
Like Saints, Warrington are affected by international call-ups. All of Stefan Ratchford, Chris Hill and Kevin Brown will be missing for Tony Smith’s side. There’s further bad news for the Wolves with the loss of Joe Westerman through injury, compounding the fact that Ben Currie is already a long-term absentee in the Wolves’ back row. Declan Patton is likely to fill in for Brown with perhaps Harvey Livett getting a run at scrum half to allow either Matty Russell or Kurt Gidley to deputise for Ratchford at fullback. Daryl Clark’s return at hooker is perhaps as important to the Wolves as Roby’s is for Saints. It is maybe surprising to see neither of them earn England selection although Josh Hodgson continues to impress in both the NRL and on the international stage.
The loss of Hill is massive and will place extra responsibility on the shoulders of Ashton Sims and Mike Cooper, while in the back row former Saint Andre Savelio will hope for a chance to impress against the club with whom he made his name. Jack Hughes is another likely starter in the second row, while in the three-quarters expect to see Tom Lineham, Ryan Atkins and Rhys Evans all feature for the Cheshire side.
The international call-ups and the schizophrenic form of both sides makes this one a very tough result to call. Saints have momentum after a confidence boosting win over Leigh last time out, while Warrington will have been disappointed in how easily they were handled in a 34-10 loss to Hull FC last weekend. Both are desperate for the points if they are to avoid the ignominy of the Middle 8 Qualifiers and retain what are already feint hopes of a Grand Final appearance.
- Tom Lineham, 3. Rhys Evans, 4. Ryan Atkins, 5. Matthew Russell, 7. Kurt Gidley, 9. Daryl Clark, 10. Ashton Sims, 12. Jack Hughes, 14. Mike Cooper, 15. Brad Dwyer, 16. George King, 17. Dominic Crosby, 18. Andre Savelio, 22. Declan Patton, 23. Joe Philbin, 24. Benjamin Jullien, 27. Morgan Smith, 28. Harvey Livett, 34. Ben Westwood.
- Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Adam Walker, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Morgan Knowles, 26. Jake Spedding, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia.
Referee: Phil Bentham