St Helens travel to the Mend-a-Hose Jungle to take on a weakened Castleford team off the back of a hard fought win against rivals Wigan. Castleford coach Daryl Powell rests Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker, Mike McMeeken, Grant Millington and Michael Shenton as they look to extend their lead at the top of the Super League.
LAST TIME OUT
Castleford went into their Round 16 clash with Leigh Centurions off the back of a workmanlike win against Widnes Vikings at home. Leigh held the league leaders for the 15 minutes of the first half before Jesse Sene-Lefao broke the deadlock. He soon added another just 8 minutes later, and with Gale converting both efforts, Castleford went 12-0 up. Castleford continued to dominate the Centurions and Greg Eden grabbed a quick-fire hat-trick before the half time break, to put the Tigers 28-0 up going into the sheds.
Greg Eden added another to his tally after half time, followed by Jake Webster who capitalised on some sensational deception from Ben Roberts. Gale added the extras to put Castleford 38 points to the good. Castleford’s defence remained perfect for the full 80 minutes in a comprehensive performance against a newly promoted Leigh side.
By contrast, St Helens won a hard fought derby with Wigan last time out. Saints’ new signing, Ryan Morgan, crossed for the first try of the game just 4 minutes in off a Matty Smith kick. Wigan replied just 10 minutes later with a well-worked move that Tom Davies finished in the corner, and shortly after George Williams took a penalty goal to put the visitors in the lead with a quarter of the game gone. Wigan struck again with Sam Powell putting Lewis Tierney in under the sticks to take the lead and Williams added the extras to put Wigan 8 points clear. Saints, however, struck back just 3 minutes from the half time break in the form of Zeb Taia, and with Mark Percival converting, St Helens closed the gap to 2 points going into the sheds at half time.
Both sides came out firing in the second half, and after a 20-minute deadlock, Joe Burgess supplied a desperate finish to put Wigan 6 ahead. Wigan couldn’t hold off a St Helens comeback though, with Mark Percival scoring in broken play and converting to level the scores. Thomas Leuluai thought he had sealed the game for Wigan with a 72nd minute drop goal, but St Helens continued to press for the win and saw their efforts rewarded when Mark Percival collected a Matty Smith bomb in the corner to cross for the winning try.
Matty Smith has hit a good vein of form recently and it seems as though he is beginning to turn the tables for the Saints after some very underwhelming performances this season. By contrast, Luke Gale has been on fire for Castleford throughout the season, but is left out from this one after playing 2 games in four days last weekend. It will most likely be Tom Holmes who fills the boots of the England halfback, and he’s going to need to have a big game in order to keep their unbeaten home record in tact. Of course, he’ll have help from the supremely talented Ben Roberts, who’s more pivotal than most think in the Castleford side.
Ultimately, the key factor in this one is how Castleford deal with the omission of 5 key players, however, good performances from the replacements will go a long way to negate the effect of Powell’s decision to rest players. Tom Holmes is probably the most pivotal of the lot, as Luke Gale not only helps create the majority of Castleford’s tries, but he scores a fair few too. If Matty Smith and Theo Fages can get their side going forward, and be creative in attack, they’ll go a long way to beating Castleford and blotting their perfect home record.
This is a hard one to call with so many key players out for Castleford and a resurgent Saints side. However, there is something to be said for a home record, and although Castleford have 5 key players out, I still think they might just have enough to get over the line at home against Saints on Sunday. While the players that the Tigers have out are key, they have some very good players to come into the side in their place who would most probably make it into another Super League side anyway. St Helens are resurgent, but it’s hard to tell how much is down to them or the average performances from teams they have played recently. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a cracker of a game. Castleford by 6.