It’s a rejuvenated Saints that will travel to the Select Security Stadium to take on Widnes Vikings in Round 11 of the BetFred Super League on Friday night (April 21, kick-off 8.00pm).
Interim coaches Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor have injected a new optimism into the club following the dismissal of Keiron Cunningham. A creditable 12-man performance in defeat at Wigan on Good Friday (April 14) was followed up with an unlikely but wholly deserved win over table-topping Castleford Tigers on Easter Monday (April 17). Now they face a trip to the home of Dennis Betts’ side perhaps with the weight of expectation on them for the first time since the new trio took control.
Following the intense double header at Easter there are a few inevitable squad changes. Luke Douglas is the glaring omission from the side that took on and beat the Tigers, so Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook earns a reprieve and is added to the initial 19-man selection. Kyle Amor has been cleared to play despite somehow being found guilty of a Grade A offence by the RFL disciplinary committee at a hearing earlier this week, and he will compete for one of the prop forward berths along with the in-form Alex Walmsley, Adam Walker and Greg Richards. One of Luke Thompson and McCarthy-Scarsbrook might get the nod to start at loose forward allowing Jon Wilkin to continue his recent good form in the problem right hand second row position. Saints looked a far more balanced attack with the skipper in a wider role against the Tigers, although the switch does mean that some of Wilkin’s defensive work rate is lost. Tommy Lee and Morgan Knowles should again share the hooking duties with James Roby still on the injured list.
Also still out are Jonny Lomax and Ryan Morgan. Lomax’s fullback role has been filled superbly by Tommy Makinson in recent weeks, but with Ricky Bailey also named it might well be that Makinson’s knees are protected from the notorious Widnes i-pitch, with Bailey coming in as cover. Regan Grace should be the first name on the team sheet following his breathtaking burst on to the Super League scene, meaning a switch to the right wing for Adam Swift. Matty Fleming should continue in Morgan’s right centre role with Dominique Peyroux probably needed as cover in the back row. Mark Percival and Zeb Taia will continue to provide the ammunition for the exciting Grace on the left edge. Matty Smith has been accused of a couple of underwhelming performances over Easter by some fans, but is doing exactly what it said on his tin when he joined from Wigan at the start of the year. He will continue to control things at scrum-half alongside the improving Theo Fages at stand-off.
Widnes come into this one having won just one of their opening 10 Super League fixtures, rooted to the bottom of the table and hurtling headlong into the Middle 8 Qualifiers. Betts will be pleased to be able to call on his first choice back-line for this one, with the main threats coming from the excellent Rhys Hanbury at fullback and last season’s try scoring sensation Corey Thompson on the wing. Joe Mellor is a class apart in the halves while the promising Tom Gilmore comes back into contention in that department also. Stefan Marsh, Charly Runciman and Chris Bridge provide extra threat in the backs.
The pack is boosted by the decision not to ban Chris Houston for steamrolling Phil Bentham into the turf during Widnes’ Easter defeat to Warrington. He, along with Matt Whitley and Alex Gerrard will try to take it to the Saints pack, though Betts will lament the absence of Manese Manuokofoa, Hep Cahill and MacGraff Leuluai. Look out instead for Jay Chapelhow, Tom Olbison and Sam Brooks to carry the load as the Vikings struggle to lift themselves from the foot of the table.
A visit to Widnes is usually a tricky task for any Super League side, but in truth with all of Warrington, Salford, Castleford, Wigan and Huddersfield having already won there this term a Saints side currently riding high should really have too much for their hosts. Defeat here would be a real setback and momentum killer for Saints, but you probably shouldn’t expect it to happen.
1. Rhys Hanbury, 2. Corey Thompson, 3. Chris Bridge, 4. Charly Runciman, 5. Patrick Ah Van, 6. Joe Mellor, 7. Tom Gilmore, 10. Jack Buchanan, 12. Matt Whitley, 14. Chris Dean, 15. Gil Dudson, 16. Alex Gerrard, 17. Stefan Marsh, 18. Greg Burke, 23. Jay Chapelhow, 24. Sam Brooks, 25. Tom Olbison, 31. Jordan Johnstone, 35. Danny Walker.
2. Tommy Makinson, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 15. Adam Walker, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Morgan Knowles, 22. Matty Fleming, 25. Ricky Bailey, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia.
Referee: Chris Kendall