Leeds could all but seal survival as they take on leaders St Helens at Headingley on Thursday night.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Leeds form has improved significantly in recent weeks as they now sit four points above bottom side London. They still need to find some consistency though as their form has followed the same pattern since their Magic Weekend win over the Broncos, winning two and then losing two. They have won their last two but have not won three games consecutively all season.
Saints confirmed winning the League Leaders shield two weeks ago and since then have gone on to beat Wakefield and Warrington in recent weeks. They have only lost three games all season and if they were to win all their remaining games they would surpass their 2006 treble winning season league-wise who lost four games that season.
Leeds make just one change to their side with a welcome return for Stevie Ward who in included for the first time since injuring his knee against St Helens in February. He replaces Brad Singleton who missed out through a two match suspension after he was sent off for a high tackle against Catalans last week.
Leeds Rhinos 19-man squad: 1. Jack Walker 4. Konrad Hurrell 5. Ash Handley 7. Richie Myler 8. Adam Cuthbertson 11. Trent Merrin 13. Stevie Ward 14. Brad Dwyer 15. Liam Sutcliffe 16. Brett Ferres 18. Nathaniel Peteru 22. Cameron Smith 24. Luke Briscoe 25. James Donaldson 29. Harry Newman 38. Ava Seumanufagai 39. Shaun Lunt 40. Robert Lui 41. Rhyse Martin
Morgan Knowles returns to the squad after picking up a minor rib injury against London Broncos last month but Joesph Paulo misses out through a calf strain. Alex Walsmley is still missing with a damaged retina while Lachlan Coote and James Roby are once again not risked. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook is rested as Joe Batchelor comes into the squad.
St Helens 19-man squad: 1. Jonny Lomax 2. Tommy Makinson 3. Kevin Naiqama, 4. Mark Percival 5. Regan Grace 6. Theo Fages 7. Danny Richardson 10. Luke Thompson 11. Zeb Taia 15. Morgan Knowles 16. Kyle Amor 17. Dom Peyroux 19. Matty Lees 20. Jack Ashworth 21. Aaron Smith 22. James Bentley 24. Matty Costello 25. Joe Batchelor 29. Jack Welsby
HEAD TO HEAD
The two teams have played each other twice this season, both games being at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Saints have come away with the two points both times. In the first game Leeds lead the game 22-10 at half time before Saints scored 17 unanswered points in the second half. Their second game was more straightforward for Saints as they beat the Rhinos 36-10 with Tommy Makinson scoring a memorable acrobatic try in the second half.
Shaun Lunt (Leeds Rhinos) v Aaron Smith (St Helens)
One of the main reasons Leeds’ form has improved recently is the return of Shaun Lunt in the hooker position. Lunt moved to Leeds mid season with Matt Parcell going the other way. Parcell is a good player but his main strengths are running from dummy half on the back of a quick play the ball which hasn’t been the style of Rugby Leeds have played this season. In Lunt they get an older, calmer head with good distribution skills while still having the impact of a quicker hooker in Brad Dwyer of the bench.
St Helens have been blessed for 25 years in the hooker position with Kieron Cunningham and then James Roby. While he may not have the wow factor those two have had, Aaron Smith has showed that he is the man to take over the nine jersey when Roby retires in a couple of years time. Last week he showed he has a good running game as he was inches away from scoring against Warrington, beating a number of players as he scooted from 25 metres out. His distribution is also sound and despite his size, he puts himself about.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Venue: Emerald Headingley Stadium
Referee: Chris Kendall
WHO WILL WIN?
A successful evening for St Helens is to come out of the game without any injuries. With their mind on Wembley and Leeds’ improved form I’m going to go with a Leeds win.