Unbeaten Saints face a test of their title credentials when they visit Warrington in a BetFred Super League Round 5 clash this Friday (March 9, kick-off 7.45pm).
Justin Holbrook’s side made short work of Salford Red Devils last time out, dominating to the tune of a 34-2 success on Sunday (March 4). That was after the game was postponed from its originally scheduled date of Friday (March 2) as The Beast From The East and Storm Emma wreaked havoc in our green, pleasant and desperately unprepared lands.
One casualty of the Salford win was Jon Wilkin. The former skipper misses out this week, the only change to the 19-man squad named by Holbrook ahead of the Salford win. Wilkin had the misfortune to come off worst in a collision between him and his fellow podcaster Mark Flanagan and is replaced in the 19 by Matty Lees. Wilkin’s absence could see Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook earn a start in the back row after his impressive performance against Ian Watson’s side, with Dominique Peyroux and Zeb Taia free to continue their burgeoning second row partnership.
Lees will fight for a place in the front row along with Kyle Amor and Luke Douglas, with Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley virtually assured of making the 17. James Roby has been outstanding as ever this year so far and is still unchallenged at hooker, although Theo Fages has proven capable of giving the England man a rest at various stages.
In the backs the only decision remains whether to restore Ryan Morgan to the side. The Australian returned to the 19 last week after a two-game layoff but was not included in the 17 on match day. Instead Holbrook persevered with Tommy Makinson at centre inside Adam Swift, allowing Regan Grace another 80-minutes to try to strike up more of an understanding with Mark Percival on the left edge. Holbrook may go that way again, or else bring Morgan back into the side and choose between Swift and Grace with Makinson moved back out to his right wing berth. Ben Barba has been the difference at key moments this season so far and should again start at fullback.
In the halves Matty Smith was the subject of much public chin-wagging from Holbrook this week, with the coach insisting that the former Wigan badge-smoocher remains in his plans despite having played no part in any match day squad so far in 2018. That would seem to rule out a loan deal elsewhere for Smith, though his chances of shifting either Danny Richardson or Jonny Lomax from the starting halfback positions still appear to be somewhat anorexic.
Warrington are back home after a bruising trip to Hull FC in conditions so bad that their regular supporters club transport was cancelled. That they were made to play the game just the same says something about where we are with the current relationship with the broadcasters, but probably also about the desperation of clubs not to create a fixture back-log in what is an already bloated season. In the end Wire went down 21-12 to the black and whites in a game which saw both Declan Patton and Liam Watts dismissed for varying degrees of lunacy.
Patton has received a five-match suspension for knocking Bureta Faraimo out cold with a swinging arm which hit the Hull winger flush in the face. Amid much hand-wringing about the game having ‘gone soft’, the RFL disciplinary appear to be taking a much needed stance against foul play of this kind. Intent is irrelevant. There is a duty of care to your fellow professionals and Patton deserves to sit down for a fistful of games at least.
Replacing him could be Kevin Brown. The ex-Thatto Heath man was knocked out for the 375th time in his professional career in Warrington’s win over Wigan a fortnight ago but is included in coach Steve Price’s 19-man selection. He will slot into the stand-off role alongside scrum-half Tyrone Roberts if fit, or else Price could move Stefan Ratchford from fullback or else introduce Harvey Livett who has earned a call-up also.
Tom Lineham and Mitch Brown should continue on the wings with Bryson Goodwin fit to resume in the centres alongside comedy legend Ryan Atkins. The front row is strong with Chris Hill and Mike Cooper leading the way either side of hooker Daryl Clark. In the back row Jack Hughes, Ben Westwood and Ben Murdoch-Masila provide a useful mix of experience and physicality. Much to the disgust of the former Mayor of Warrington both George and Toby King are included in Price’s squad as is Dom Crosby after showing no ill effects from Watts’ lame attempt to head-butt him at the KCom last week.
Saints used to have a comical hold over Warrington in Super League but the ledger has been more even in recent seasons. Saints will be keen to make up for the fact that they were whacked 40-18 at the Halliwell Jones in 2017 but also to maintain that 100% record that has everyone tipping them to wear the crown this time around. Warrington must try to bounce back after their run of two wins in a row was halted by defeat on Humberside last time out.
These two usually produce a good, open game which is rarely short of incident. Expect nothing else here, even if there could be a fair degree of five-drives-and-a-kick rubbish in the early stages. That’s just Super League in the current climate. Predictions are ludicrous where both sides are concerned but given the recent form of both I’d be tempted to suggest that Saints will just about come a way with a narrow win. Saints by four.
1. Stefan Ratchford, 2. Tom Lineham, 3. Bryson Goodwin, 4. Ryan Atkins, 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Tyrone Roberts, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Daryl Clark, 10. Mike Cooper, 12. Jack Hughes, 13. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 14. Dominic Crosby, 17. Joe Philbin, 18. Toby King, 19. George King, 20. Harvey Livett, 21. Mitch Brown, 22. Morgan Smith, 34. Ben Westwood.
1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Zeb Taia, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 23. Ben Barba.
Referee: James Child