St Helens take on Warrington in the first play-off semi-final. Here’s everything you need to know…
St Helens finished their Super 8s campaign on a high with a fourth consecutive victory, impressively beating fellow semi-finalists Castleford 26-0.
Jon Wilkin, Jonny Lomax and Luke Thompson all return to the side after being rested last week, as Justin Holbrook has a close to fully fit squad to choose from.
With the experienced campaigners all raring to go, youngsters Matty Costello, James Bentley, and Jake Spedding all miss out on the side as they prepare to do battle with the Wolves.
St Helens 19-man squad: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Fages, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles, Thompson, Peyroux, Richardson, Grace, Lees, Ashworth, Barba.
Steve Price has made three changes to the side that finished the Super s campaign with a 36-23 victory over Wakefield.
Half-back pairing Kevin Brown, who has recovered from an abductor muscle injury, and Tyrone Roberts, who missed last week due to a concussion, are both back in the mix after picking up their knocks in the defeat to St Helens a fortnight ago – the only time either has lined up for them in the past three weeks.
Tom Lineham had a three-match ban reduced on appeal, so now returns to the side after completing the second and final game last week at Wakefield. Ben Pomeroy and Sitaleki Akauola drop out along with Morgan Smith.
Warrington 19-man squad: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Hughes, Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, T. King, G. King, Livett, Charnley, Thompson, Westwood.
St Helens and Warrington have gone toe-to-toe three times this season – twice in the regular season and once in the Super 8s – and Warrington are yet to gain a victory over the Saints.
St Helens first took on Warrington away from home in Round 5 and despite just two points separating them at the break, Holbrook’s men decimated Warrington in the second half for a 30-12 win.
The return fixture didn’t take place until the final round of the regular season and yet again, it was Saints who got the victory but it was hard-earned. Warrington were taking every point on offer including three penalties but they couldn’t land the crucial drop goal, and in the end it was Danny Richardson who won the game for St Helens with a penalty goal from 55m out to secure a 14-12 victory.
These two sides then met again less than two weeks ago as the Wire took on St Helens, and with the play-off fixtures already determined this was billed as a curtain-raiser to this semi-final clash. Both sides chose to rest some players but it was still a full-blooded contest, and one which St Helens dominated in the second half with 16 unanswered on their way to a 34-14 win.
Ben Barba vs Stefan Ratchford
Both full-backs are going to have to be on their A-game this week, both in dealing with a large number of high spiraling kicks in their direction, and in attack where both play a crucial role.
They will have to pop up when necessary to deal looping passes out wide but both players can also score themselves with some fancy footwork. Barba has gone over line 28 times for his side this year, more than any other player in Super League, making him deadly near the try line. Ratchford, however, is arguably just as good and has been consistent all year – scoring 15 tries in total.
Barba is unselfish too, with a brilliant 24 try assists to his name as well. It makes the maverick impossible to predict as you never know what he’s going to do – is he going to score or assist a teammate with a short ball? Ratchford is the same sort of player and with 19 assists, he is always inserting himself in an attacking line and getting involved.
Both defensive lines will also have to be careful as both players can bust through tackles very often – Barba has done it 141 times this year in Super League alone with his opposite number, Ratchford, busting through 101 times. Both are adept at forcing their way clean through as well, as Barba has done 30 times this year, 10 more than Ratchford.
Danny Richardson vs Declan Patton
It’s almost guaranteed that this game will be close considering that St Helens only won by 2 points (14-12) when both sides were full-strength back in July. There could only be a couple of points between them this time, which would the battle of the kickers vital in determining the final outcome.
Warrington have struggled with a goal kicker this year, having five different players (Ratchford, Goodwin, Roberts, Patton, Livett) taking the duties at different stages. So with all five named in the 19-man squad, who will kick the goals? Personally, I believe Roberts will kick the two points and when times get desperate, Patton will hold the full responsibility of kicking a drop goal.
There is no doubt who will step up for St Helens, and with a consistent conversion rate above 80% this year, it’s likely that every try will be turned into 6 points by Danny Richardson. His kicks alone have won a number of games this year and this one might be another for his collection.
Luke Thompson vs Mike Cooper
Both sides have inspirational prop forwards who lead from the front, and Luke Thompson and Mike Cooper are going to play the most important role in tomorrow’s game.
There’s no doubt that Thompson has had his best season so far in a stellar career. He scooped up three club awards including Saints’ Player of the Year, and as soon as he comes onto the field he is a threat. Cooper is the same – his large size and fast acceleration makes him very difficult to stop anywhere on the pitch and his plays can sometimes be inventive.
Thompson has run the most metres for his side this year with nearly 3700m, and with an 8.26 average metre gain, he is hard to stop when he runs directly at defensive lines. Cooper is just as dangerous though, because while he might make less ground himself, his plays are more inventive. He has offloaded the ball 55 times for the Wire this season, making him difficult to predict when he has the ball.
Cooper is the more consistent out of the two when it comes to tackling, while both are also very consistent when holding the ball, and between them they have made just 20 errors all season – 11 from Thompson and 9 from Cooper.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Thursday 4th October
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium
Referee: Robert Hicks