Tuesday, 23 June 2015

5 Talking Points From Saints' Loss To Castleford Tigers

5 Talking Points From Saints’ Loss At Castleford Tigers

If You Live By The Sword……

Ben Roberts’ last gasp drop-goal was a perfectly wretched way for Saints to lose a match they had been in full control of. Particularly in view of the fact that they had a scrum feed deep inside the Tigers’ half of the field with barely a minute and a half on the clock. You could argue that a professional rugby league team should never lose a game from that position. But a sneaky glance into the history, indeed the very DNA of Saints reveals that they have been doing exactly this sort of thing to others for years. Who can forget Sean Long’s winning one-pointer in the 2002 Grand Final against Bradford Bulls, or a similar effort which put paid to Warrington’s hopes of ending their losing streak against Saints in Ian Millward’s last game in charge? Warrington were a serial victim as Saints mastered the art of winning games that they had barely bothered to turn up for. It was almost a sport within a sport. The Castleford defeat just shows that if you live by the sword you are occasionally going to die by it. Best get it out of the way now than have it happen when the pots are on offer in August and October. So let’s cheer up just a little bit, eh?

The Humanity Of James Roby

Not to labour a point, but Keiron Cunningham has declared twice recently that in his opinion James Roby is a better hooker than Cunningham himself used to be. Now this might be false modesty on the part of the head coach. He’s probably not going to come out after a game and say ‘yeah, he’s alright but have you seen who’s on that statue outside the stadium?’ However, it is nevertheless an indication of just how brilliant Roby is that a legend such as Cunningham is prepared to concede ground even if it is politeness combined perhaps with a desire to boost his star man’s confidence. Whatever the truth of the Cunningham-Roby debate there is no doubting that the latter is a freak of a player in his own right. All of which makes it all the more shocking to note that the normally robotic Roby broke down a little at The Jungle. His 40-20 attempt sailed out on the full at a crucial time for Saints, and the winning drop-goal was only made possible after Roby failed to pick the ball up cleanly from the base of the scrum. In mitigation he did have Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook doing his level best to confuse the situation by plodding around clumsily in the vicinity of the ball as it lay on the ground, but the fact of the matter is still that Roby should have picked the ball up and that, had he done so, Saints would likely have run down a fair proportion of the clock and not conceded the possession and territory which allowed Cas to set up for Roberts’ winning effort.

So that’s his two errors for the season out of the way, then. You wouldn’t want to be Widnes Vikings…..

Does Anyone Have A Spare Fullback Lying Around?

I really had hoped to avoid banging on about injuries AGAIN in this column but fate has again conspired against me. Shannon McDonnell is the latest to join Saints’ long-term injury list and in so doing becomes the fourth fullback to be forced out of action this season. Jonny Lomax’s season ended early amid fears for his future in the sport, before time finally caught up with and overtook Paul Wellens. Tommy Makinson filled in ably before McDonnell returned to the club, and now both face months on the sidelines in any case. Adam Swift has been mooted as a possible candidate to take over the role but he suffered a nasty bang on the head at Castleford and will presumably need to pass all of the concussion tests during the week if he is to make the starting line-up for this weekend’s cup quarter-final with Widnes. There are no more cabs left on the rank and everyone is getting very angry about it indeed. It’s like town on a Saturday night before the advent of 24-hour drinking. Step forward Mark Percival who, it has been suggested, will be the last line of defence against Dennis Betts’ side on Sunday. If he can handle the defensive side of the role it could work out wonderfully well. Percival needs to get his hands on the ball more and where better to do that than at fullback which often affords players with his sort of gifts all the time and space they need to prosper. It might just work…… Or if not it has also been suggested that Saints could move for former New Zealand international Kevin Locke, whose resignation from Salford Red Devils has been accepted by Marwan Koukash at a press conference this week.

And So To The Good News……

Just as Saints were out losing fullbacks, they also acquired one of the best scrum halves in the Super League and one of its emerging back row talents as both Luke Walsh and Joe Greenwood made try-scoring returns to action against Daryl Powell’s side. Ok so it was in vain, but it was still uplifting to see Walsh scheming in tandem with Travis Burns, even if the latter is still too fond of a step back on the inside and a drop ball to a barely moving front rower. With Walsh now committed to the club for 2016 what we would really like to see is him enjoying a lengthy spell without injuries. It’s abundantly clear that the men in the red vee are a transformed outfit in attack with Walsh out there directing traffic, while Greenwood’s form before his broken leg was impressive also. If he can reach those heights again at the back end of the season then there is every reason to be optimistic for the Super 8’s and the subsequent play-off series. It just doesn’t feel a lot like it when you have just lost to a last minute drop-goal.

Wembley Dreams

Saints are regulars at the Grand Final. We’re still Super League champions in fact, which is something you might want to ponder before you sink into despair watching re-runs of the Tigers game. However, we haven’t been to a Challenge Cup Final since 2008. A full seven years ago. Even if you just miss having the chance to crack open a beer at 6.00 in the morning before the coach leaves you must be as desperate as I am to get back down to the capital for the more traditional of the game’s showpiece events. Opportunity is knocking with a home quarter final against the Widnes Vikings coming up this Sunday (June 28). The Vikings have slipped out of the top eight of Super League in recent weeks following defeats to Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants and come to Langtree Park with confidence somewhat shaken. Yet it was a very competitive struggle when the two teams met there in the league earlier this season, with Saints pulling away in the last quarter to record a 34-16 success. These stakes are higher this time around, with the winner’s Wembley dream alive while the loser goes home to ‘concentrate on the league’ and gaze longingly into the distance with thoughts of another crack at it in 12 months time. Every minute matters in Super League, but none more so than the 80 that will be played in the Challenge Cup between two old local rivals this weekend. Saints have their best chance of reaching Wembley in recent years. They just need one big performance…

And maybe a favourable semi-final draw……….

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