Saints will look to bounce back from a first setback of 2018 when they visit Hull KR in a Betfred Super League Round 7 clash on Friday night (March 23, kick-off 8.00pm).
Saints were rudely prodded in the backside last time out. Undefeated in their first five league games of the season they went down 28-20 at home to Leeds Rhinos on Friday night (March 16). It was a result which reminded us all that this season won't be a stroll and that there are teams out there who can and will knock us off our perch if we're below par.
That assignment was more difficult by the loss of Alex Walmsley earlier in the week, and when it was revealed by Justin Holbrook after the game that Walmsley will be out for 'months' this week's task also had its degree of difficulty increased. While Luke Thompson has been arguably Saints most consistent prop this week Walmsley, who has fractured a bone in his neck keeping him out for what the club now describe as 'the long term' is still one of Super League's premier props and all but irreplacable in a salary capped sport.
To try and fill the void Holbrook has recalled Morgan Knowles to the squad after his four-match suspension for his red card in the win at Catalans in February came to an end. The Welsh international is a back-rower as opposed to a prop but his inclusion may free up Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to chip in to a middle unit that looks threadbare without Walmsley. That one or both of Kyle Amor and Luke Douglas will likely start the game and play more minutes is a deep concern as both continue to find punching holes in paper bags somewhat beyond them. Despite this Holbrook has ruled out drafting in a short-term replacement for Walmsley and has instead focused on the opportunity that has now arisen for some of the younger players in the squad. For now that means Matty Lees, who gets another chance to build on his recent first team experience. Knowles will join Zeb Taia, Jon Wilkin, Dom Peyroux and at times McCarthy-Scarsbrook as Holbrook's back row options with another irreplacable in James Roby at hooker.
Knowles replaces Ryan Morgan in the initial 19-man selection as Holbrook chooses to bolster his pack to try to cover the loss of Walmsley. That should mean Tommy Makinson remaining in Morgan's favoured centre position with both Adam Swift and Regan Grace continuing on the wings. Mark Percival will complete the three-quarter line ahead of fullback Ben Barba. In the halves there have been calls for change after underwhelming performances against the Rhinos from both Jonny Lomax and Danny Richardson but Holbrook strikes you as the kind of coach who will give players a chance to right the wrongs of one poor result. If he does we will again have to wait for Theo Fages to appear from the bench while there is again likely to be no place in the match day 17 for Matty Smith.
Rovers were tipped by most observers to struggle in 2018 after returning to Super League from the Chanpionship and they haven't done a great deal to change many minds. They have just two wins from their first six matches but do come in with a bit of confidence having thrashed Huddersfield Giants 38-6 last week. Names to look out for in Tim Sheens' squad include three former Saints in fullback Adam Quinlan, prop Mose Masoe and hooker Tommy Lee. Shaun Lunt's continued absence is a big loss but Danny McGuire and Justin Carney add great experience while Chris Atkin's halfback partnership with McGuire has looked very promising.
Saints did not miss Rovers while they were away from the top flight in 2017. They have a woeful record at what may or may not still be called Craven Park, having not won in eight consecutive visits before a 31-22 success stopped the rot in 2016. Repeating that won't be straightforward and with an Easter date with Wigan seven days later it is to be hoped that attention doesn't shift there too soon. Without Walmsley I'm fearful and would take the scruffiest one-point win in the history of the game if offered it right now.
1. Adam Quinlan 3. Thomas Minns 4. Andrew Heffernan. 5. Ryan Shaw 7. Danny McGuire 10. Mose Masoe 11. Maurice Blair 12. James Greenwood 13. Ben Kavanagh 15. James Donaldson 17. Chris Clarkson 18. George Lawler 19. Tommy Lee 21. Robert Mulhern 22. Liam Salter 24. Christopher Atkin 28. Will Dagger 29. Jordan Walne 36. Justin Carney
1. Jonny Lomax 2. Tommy Makinson 4. Mark Percival 5. Adam Swift 6. Theo Fages 7. Matty Smith 9. James Roby 10. Kyle Amor 11. Zeb Taia 12. Jon Wilkin 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook 14. Luke Douglas 15. Morgan Knowles 16. Luke Thompson 17. Dominique Peyroux 18. Danny Richardson 19. Regan Grace 20. Matty Lees 23. Ben Barba
Referee: Liam Moore