The Super League play-offs are here, and they begin with League Leaders Castleford Tigers welcoming St Helens to the Mend-a-Hose Jungle on Thursday night, with a place in the Grand Final up for grabs.

Last Time Out

Castleford Tigers already had top spot wrapped up, and with that in mind they rested some of their key players ahead of their semi-final when they welcomed Hull FC in the final game of the Super 8’s. You can’t blame Daryl Powell, as this Thursday’s clash with St Helens is one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history. With a weakened side they fell to a 48-16 defeat to the Airlie Birds, who secured third spot with the victory, as debutant Tuoyo Egodo helped himself to a hat-trick for the Tigers. Despite signing off with a loss, Castleford registered five wins from their seven Super 8’s outings and topped the table deservedly.

St Helens needed a win to clinch fourth spot, and they made it three victories in a row to keep their dreams of a trip to Old Trafford alive with a comfortable 30-4 triumph over Salford Red Devils. Mark Percival was named in the Super League Dream Team and crossed for a try and kicked five goals at the AJ Bell Stadium. Justin Holbrook’s men have hit form at the right time of the year and have gained momentum in their quest to be crowned champions.

Previous Meetings this Season

These sides have gone head-to-head on four occasions this campaign, and with two wins a-piece it is perfectly balanced for a tense 80 minutes of knockout football. The only other knockout contest they have competed in this year was the Challenge Cup, as the Tigers claimed a comfortable 53-10 win in the sixth round back in May.

A month earlier Saints had claimed a 26-22 victory at the Totally Wicked Stadium, in their only meeting there in 2017, with caretaker boss Sean Long in charge. In the return fixture it was a four-point margin again, this time in Castleford’s favour as they fought back from 12-4 down at the break to win the game 16-12.

On their next visit to the Jungle it was third time lucky for Saints, as they become the first team to beat the League Leaders on their own patch in the first round of the Super 8’s. James Roby led his men to a 26-12 triumph in a two-try display, which showed St Helens are serious contenders.

Key Players

Castleford’s attack has been unbelievable at times this year, blowing away defences on the way to claiming top spot and securing their place in the semi-finals. That has been built on the combinations of Luke Gale and Zak Hardaker, and Michael Shenton and Greg Eden. Gale is aiming to recover from having an appendix operation just over two weeks ago, and if he makes the cut he could guide his club to Old Trafford.

Saints will be looking to star full-back Ben Barba for inspiration, as he has added an extra-dimension to their attack since joining the club. He is also bidding for back-to-back Grand Final victories, as he was part of the Cronulla Sharks side which was crowned NRL Premiers in 2016, before he was exiled from the Australian competition. Percival has been one of the club’s best players this season in the centres, and the importance of hooker Roby is there for all to see as he continues to amaze with his performances in the middle.

Stats

There could be some milestones achieved on Thursday evening for both clubs, as Grant Millington is set to make his 150th Super League appearance, all of which have been for the Tigers. Team mate Paul McShane is in line to make his 200th career appearance, while Eden is one try away from equaling Denny Solomona’s club record of 42 tries in a season.

For the visitors, Tommy Makinson is one try away from a century of touchdowns, with Jonny Lomax eight points away from 500 for St Helens.

These two sides last met in the play-offs back in 2014, when Saints cruised to a 41-0 victory, on their way to picking up the Super League trophy.

Squads

St Helens 19-man squad

Holbrook has named the same 19 for the third week in a row, as he seems to have found the winning formula in his consistent team selections. He will choose from:

Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Theo Fages, Matty Smith, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Kyle Amor, Jon Wilkin, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Douglas, Luke Thompson, Dominique Peyroux, Morgan Knowles, Danny Richardson, Regan Grace, Zeb Taia, Ben Barba

Castleford Tigers 19-man squad

Powell has welcomed back his big names ahead of this crucial semi-final clash, as Hardaker, Gale, Shenton, Millington, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey and Junior Moors return to the fold. He will choose his 17 from:

Zak Hardaker, Greg Minikin, Jake Webster, Michael Shenton, Greg Eden, Luke Gale, Andy Lynch, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Mike McMeeken, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Ben Roberts, Junior Moors, Matt Cook, Gadwin Springer, Joel Monaghan, Alex Foster

Prediction

It would be tough to take for Castleford if they didn’t go on to win the big prize after being the best side in the competition all year, but that’s the harsh reality of the play-off system at times. Saints will fancy their chances of knocking them off their perch after their last visit, but it is all about who deals with the pressure of the occasion this time out. Cas by 4

Match Details

Date: Thursday 28th September

Kick-off: 8:00pm

Venue: Mend-a-Hose Jungle

Referee: James Child