St Helens host Castleford Tigers at the Totally Wicked Stadium to kick off their 2018 campaign. Castleford’s last league win away at St. Helens came in October of 1990.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Saints’ last competitive game ended in an agonising one-point overtime defeat in a semi-final playoff against their round 1 opponents, Castleford. The loss came off the back of a promising end to the season for St Helens after Justin Holbrook replaced Keiron Cunningham as head coach part way through the season.
Aside from pre-season fixtures, Castleford come into this off the back of a painful defeat in the Super League Grand Final and have a torrid record on the road to St Helens. The Tigers have strengthened their squad in the off-season and avenged their Grand Final defeat to Leeds with a 16-4 win in a pre-season friendly.
James Roby will lead out the Saints after being given the captaincy this season by head coach Justin Holbrook. Holbrook has a selection headache with Ben Barba, Theo Fages, Matty Smith, Jonny Lomax and Danny Richardson all available to play in the playmaking spine.
St Helens: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Fages, Smith, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles, Thompson, Peyroux, Richardson, Grace, Barba.
On the other hand, Daryl Powell has included new signings James Green, Joe Wardle and Jamie Ellis in the 19-man squad.
Castleford: Cook, Eden, Ellis, Gale, Green, Holmes, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minkin, Moors, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Trueman, Wardle, Webster.
The last time the two sides met was in last season’s semi-finals, in which Castleford triumphed 23-22 in overtime. The Tigers, however, haven’t won a competitive game away at St. Helens in over 26 years. Both sides are in strong contention for the title and the game throws up a number of interesting match-ups across the park. Depending on Justin Holbrook’s selection in the halves, his playmakers will need to be on top of their game to extend their home record against Castleford. The Tigers have Luke Gale, Jamie Ellis, and Jake Trueman all vying for the halfback spots, with Ben Roberts most likely to be providing the link at fullback. Regardless of the selection, Saints should be provided with an electric attacking Castleford outfit and will need to be tight in order to win this one. Similarly, Saints have a number of players in contention for in the pivot roles and it’ll be interesting to see which partnership reigns supreme in a part of the season where attacks often struggle. In addition, Saints look to have the edge in the pack, but Mike McMeeken could make all the difference for Castleford as he comes in off the back of being selected in the 2017 Super League Dream Team and England’s 2017 Rugby League World Cup squad. The two sides have seemingly equitable levels of talent and, as a result, the most important factor in this one will be their ability to come together as a team, especially with new signings in key positions.
Castleford are seeking their first summer era away win at St Helens on Friday night (and first ‘road’ victory in 30 games overall). In the 15 visits they made to Knowsley Road between 1996 and 2010, the Tigers were defeated on 14 occasions. The closest they got to a summer victory at Saints’ old home came with a 32-32 draw on 13 September, 1998.
St Helens : Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Fages, Smith, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles, Thompson, Peyroux, Richardson, Grace, Barba.
Castleford: Cook, Eden, Ellis, Gale, Green, Holmes, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minkin, Moors, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Trueman, Wardle, Webster
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 2nd February 2018
Venue: The Totally Wicked Stadium, St. Helens, Merseyside.
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
WHO WILL WIN?
St Helens have an undeniably strong record at home against Castleford and should provide a controlled and defensively sound performance to avenge their semi-final loss against the League Leaders’ Shield holders. Saints by 6.
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