Table-toppers Saints will look to continue their excellent 2018 form when they travel to the ludicrously named Mobile Rocket Stadium to face Wakefield Trinity on Sunday (April 15, kick-off 3.00pm).
Justin Holbrook’s side earned their ninth win from 10 Super League outings so far this season when they beat Hull 26-12 at home last week. By the time this one kicks off they will have had nine full days to recover from the hectic Easter schedule and prepare. That should be enough to recharge the batteries and focus on beating a very decent Trinity side whose form has dipped in recent weeks after a solid start. Yet Trinity’s five defeats in a row over the last month have come by a combined margin of just 30 points at an average of just six points a game. This is a side whose current position of seventh in the league is unflattering.
Beating Chris Chester’s side is made that bit more difficult for Saints by the absence of James Roby. The England hooker has been right up there with Ben Barba as one of the stars of the Saints show so far this term but he misses out this week. He left the victory over Hull FC just after half-time with a rib injury, immediately prompting Holbrook to suggest that Roby’s involvement at Wakefield seemed unlikely. So it has proved, with Matty Costello drafted in to the 19-man squad for the first time this season in the only change from last week’s selection.
You’re way ahead of me I know but the obvious thing to state is that Costello is not a hooker, and therefore not a direct replacement for Roby. Most often Costello is a fullback, which may or may not cast doubts about whether Barba is ready to return having been side-lined through illness for the Hull FC game. Yet Jonny Lomax did a fine job in relief of the Aussie star and would be favourite to do so again should Barba have failed to recover. Barba’s selection seems to suggest a return to stand-off for Lomax with Theo Fages returning to the bench after deputising at 6 with varying degrees of success at Widnes and against Lee Radford’s black and whites. That would leave Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace to occupy the wings with Adam Swift still out with a shoulder injury, and Ryan Morgan and Mark Percival in the centres. Danny Richardson is now the established starter at scrum-half.
The most likely candidate to replace Roby is Matty Smith. The former England scrum-half has slotted in at hooker during both of the last two games and done fairly well in the role. It is impossible to replace what Roby gives you at dummy half but Smith’s tactical nous and passing ability allied to his willingness to work defensively should see him get the nod. Fages is another option in that role while either could be moved into the halves should circumstances dictate. Fortunately for Saints, while they have no specialist hooker to back-up Roby, they do have an array of halfbacks who are adaptable and can be moved around to different positions depending on where the gaps exist.
The forward pack is now missing its two best players with Roby joining the already side-lined Alex Walmsley. Kyle Amor, Luke Douglas and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook have all stepped up admirably in the absence of Walmsley and they will all again look to contribute in support of Luke Thompson. Due to a combination of Walmsley’s injury and his own form Thompson has emerged as Saints most reliable prop in 2018 and will be crucial again for Holbrook’s side. Matty Lees is again named in the 19 but will do well to break into the side with those ahead of him in the pecking order in fine fettle in terms of their form. Behind that group Zeb Taia continues to cop the flak from fans for failing to be Joe Greenwood, but the reality is that the former Gold Coast man bagged another two tries and 145 metres against FC and is arguably Saints most dangerous forward with ball in hand. Jon Wilkin, Morgan Knowles and Dominique Peyroux are a more than adequate support cast.
Wakefield may welcome back Scott Grix at fullback after he missed his side’s 28-26 defeat to Leeds Rhinos last weekend. He replaces Max Jowitt in one of four changes to Chester’s 19-man squad which see all of Liam Finn, Chris Annakin and Anthony England return. As well as Jowitt James Batchelor, Pauli Pauli and Ryan Hampshire miss out as Chester looks to find the right combination to get his side back to winning ways.
Trinity have pace in the backs with Ben Jones-Bishop and Tom Johnstone on the wings and Bill Tupou and Reece Lyne at centre. Finn will look to start in the halves alongside Jacob Miller while the pack includes the vastly under-rated former Saint Matty Ashurst as well as England, Tyler Randell, Justin Horo, Craig Huby and Danny Kirmond. Jordan Baldwinson, Tinirau Arona and Joe Arundel will all look to feature also and the presence of all shows that this is a Wakefield squad which contains far more depth than many of its predecessors in the Super League era.
For most sides Saints have been too hot to handle this season so far and with Wakefield stuck in something of a rut results-wise it is difficult to see how they halt that momentum even at home against a Roby-less Saints outfit. They will be competitive however, and their desperation to end their poor run of form may get an extra 10% out of them as the regular season reaches its half way point and wins become ever more precious. Yet with Barba likely to return and Smith a capable deputy for Roby a 10th win from 11 still seems the most likely outcome. Saints by 6.
1.Scott Grix, 2. Tom Johnstone, 3. Pio Tupou, 4. Reece Lyne, 5. Ben Jones-Bishop, 6. Jacob Miller, 7. Liam Finn, 9. Kyle Wood, 10. Anthony England, 11. Matthew Ashurst, 12. Daniel Kirmond, 13. Tyler Randell, 14. Justin Horo, 16. Tinirau Arona, 17. Craig Huby, 18. Joseph Arundel, 20. Keegan Hirst, 22. Jordan Baldwinson, 23. Christopher Annakin.
1.Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 23. Ben Barba, 30. Matty Costello.
Referee: Gareth Hewer