Table topping, Wigan slaying bundle of positivity Saints face their third league game in eight days when they host Hull FC in a BetFred Super League Round 10 meeting on Friday night (April 6, kick-off 7.45pm).
It was a highly successful Easter for Justin Holbrook's side who edged a thrilling derby 21-18 over Wigan on Good Friday before cruising to a 28-6 win at Widnes on Easter Monday. The double left Saints four points clear at the top of the table and looking like the team to beat in the race to Old Trafford in 2018.
The holiday brought happiness for Hull FC too. After a wobble following their Wigan-inspired trip to Australia the black and whites have won their last three in the league. Their Easter featured a 30-22 win over neighbours Hull KR, achieved despite playing with 12 men for 70 minutes, and a nerve-jangling 27-26 win over Wakefield Trinity thanks to Marc Sneyd's ridiculous 50-metre drop-goal in the last minute. Lee Radford's side are up to fifth and a win in this one will draw them to within four points of Saints.
To achieve that they'll need to get past a very similar set of personnel to that which saw off Wigan and Widnes. Holbrook has again named the same 19-man squad for the match as he did ahead of the Easter fixtures. The only change to the 17 is likely to be the re-introduction of Jonny Lomax, rested for the trip to Widnes. Matty Smith looks the likeliest to miss out in that case after making his first appearance of the season on Monday. That would mean Lomax probably slotting back in at stand-off with Theo Fages returning to a bench role. With Adam Swift still out injured the rest of the back line should be as you were with Ben Barba lighting cigars at fullback behind wingers Regan Grace and Tommy Makinson. Mark Percival and Ryan Morgan should continue at centre with Danny Richardson at scrum-half.
Alex Walmsley remains the big miss in the pack. The only question is whether his long term neck injury will finally afford Matty Lees a chance or whether Holbrook will stick with the front rowers who have upped their game since Walmsley's injury. Luke Douglas rightly avoided suspension following his sin-binning at Widnes and will look to feature alongside Kyle Amor, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and the standout Luke Thompson. Crafty Cockney Louie looks set to make his 300th appearance in Super League including his time at London Broncos. James Roby needs one try to match Tommy Makinson's milestone of 100 for the club and leads the side at hooker. Zeb Taia, Dominique Peyroux, Jon Wilkin and Morgan Knowles will be the back row options.
Hull are without Dean Hadley and Jordan Abdull but welcome back all of Jamie Shaul, Carlos Tuimavave and, crucially, Danny Houghton after they along with the also recalled Jordan Lane missed the win over Wakefield. Fetuli Talanoa is Super League's top try scorer with 11, one more than both Barba and Percival. Yet it is stand-off Albert Kelly who Holbrook has identified as a major threat. His speed and craft compliments Sneyd's kicking game in the halves and ensures that men like Talanoa, Tuimavave and Josh Griffin get the service they need.
Houghton is the key in the pack but Radford will hope Sika Manu is able to return after four games out. Mark Minichiello is ageing but genuine Super League quality and with England squad member Scott Taylor in the ranks along with Josh Bowden and Chris Green FC have the grunt up front to trouble a Saints side trying to fill the Walmsley-sized hole in their side.
The match is the first leg of the Steve Prescott Cup, played for between these two former clubs of the much loved international fullback and charity champion. The winner will be decided on aggregate score over the two regular season meetings between the two, with Saints currently the holders thanks largely to their 45-0 walloping of FC at the 2017 Magic Weekend.
In form Saints should be genuinely tested by an improving Hull side but should be confident about making it nine wins out of 10 to start their 2018 campaign.
1. Jonny Lomax 2. Tommy Makinson 3. Ryan Morgan 4. Mark Percival 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
1. Jamie Shaul 3. Carlos Tuimavave 4. Josh Griffin 5. Fetuli Talanoa 6. Albert Kelly 7. Marc Sneyd 8. Scott Taylor 9. Danny Houghton 12. Mark Minichiello 13. Josh Bowden 14. Jake Connor 15. Chris Green 17. Danny Washbrook 20. Brad Fash 21. Sika Manu 22. Jez Litten 23. Mickey Paea 24. Jack Logan 26. Jordan Lane
Referee: Robert Hicks