We kick off Super League 2019 with a fierce rivalry: Saints versus Wigan. Keep reading for all of your squad news…
TEAM FORM GUIDE
St Helens managed to win 26 out of their 32 games last season but unfortunately for them, two of them came in semi-finals. Saints had a different pre-season strategy to many other teams by only playing one friendly in which they beat Hull FC 28-18 in Jonny Lomax’s testiomonial.
Wigan come into the season as champions after beating Warrington in the Grand Final last time around. The Warriors were unbeaten in pre-season with the first team defeating Salford while teams made up of youth squad and fringe players beat London Skolars and drew against Barrow Raiders.
Following Luke Douglas’ month-long loan to dual registration partners Leigh Centurions, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth and Kyle Amor are fighting it out for the two remaining prop spaces with Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson likely to be the starting pair. Joseph Paulo, Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naqaima are all in line to make their debuts. Justin Holbrook has suggested that Theo Fages will start at scrum-half in place of Danny Richardson, whose pre-season has been interrupted by injuries.
Saints finished last year in disappointing fashion with two semi-final defeats and were left with only the League Leaders’ Shield. This season, they will be wanting to go one better.
St Helens 19-man squad:
1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Kevin Naqaima, 4. Mark Percival, 5.Regan Grace, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Danny Richardson, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Luke Thompson, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Joseph Paulo, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Kyle Amor, 17. Dominique Peyroux, 19. Matty Lees, 20. Jack Ashworth, 23. Lachlan Coote.
Jarrod Sammut will miss the game due to a one-match suspension meaning so it is likely that Zak Hardaker will start at full-back with George Williams and Thomas Leuluai in the halfs, with Morgan Escare on the bench. Joe Bullock could also make his debut in this game alongside Hardaker.
Wigan will be looking to build up momentum for their World Club Challenge fixture against Sydney Roosters in two weeks time and a win against their rivals would set them up nicely.
1. Morgan Escare, 2. Tom Davies, 3. Dan Sarginson, 4. Oliver Gildart, 6. George Williams, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 8. Tony Clubb, 9. Sam Powell, 11. Joe Greenwood, 12. Liam Farrell, 13. Sean O’Loughlin, 14. Romain Navarrete, 15. Willie Isa, 16. Gabriel Hamlin, 17. Liam Marshall, 20. Zak Hardaker, 22. Joe Bullock.
HEAD TO HEAD
St Helens had the advantage last season beating their rivals twice in the regular season: first, a late try from Regan Grace sealed a win in the traditional Good Friday clash and then tries from Dom Peyroux and Morgan Knowles gave them the victory at the DW Stadium. Wigan, however, beat them last time out in a convincing 30-10 win at the Totally Wicked Stadium which prevented them from celebrating winning the League Leaders’ Shield in front of them.
The key battle will come in the halves. It seems that Theo Fages will be given the chance to claim the scrum-half position as his own after Danny Richardson’s preparation for this season has been hampered by a calf strain, which he picked up in their play-off semi-final against Warrington last year. The Frenchman has yet to nail down a position in the team since his arrival in 2016, playing a number of positions such as stand-off, hooker and even a spell at loose forward off the bench last year. Fages is well-known for his off the cuff style from stand off so it will be interesting to see how he is at guiding Saints around the field from scrum half.
He will be up against Thomas Leulaui who has years of experience being Wigan’s general. There will be pressure on Leulaui due to the signing of Jarrod Sammut as well as some Wigan fans wanting the club to have signed a well-established scrum-half in the close season. Could 2019 be one season too far for Tommy?
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Thursday 31st January
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium
Referee: Robert Hicks
WHO WILL WIN?
I believe that home advantage could be the difference in this match. Saints have the best forward pack in the league and the likes of Alex Walmsley, Luke Thompson, Matty Lees and Jack Ashworth will be hard to stop this year.