In one of five Friday night games this round, St Helens take on the Huddersfield Giants at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Both teams, despite being top four contenders not too many years ago, find themselves languishing at the wrong end of the table and seeing their coaches under considerable and increasing pressure from the fans to turn things around soon.
For most Saints fans, the most disappointing aspect of this season has been the dull and uninspiring, 5 drives and a kick, ‘safety-first’ rugby churned out by their team, with their ‘entertainers’ tag of the past a million miles from being lived up to. Across the Pennines, Giants fans rue their sides’ abysmal defensive record, which is the worst in the league, and the ease of which their pack is overpowered by the opposition.
After appearing to turn a corner after victories away in the south of France and at home against Warrington, the Saints reverted to type by putting in another toothless and uninspiring performance last Thursday against an excellent Salford side, meaning that they have only won 3 and lost 4 so far this season. With a tricky Easter of Wigan (A), Castleford (H) and Widnes (A) approaching, the home side will be desperate to gain a crucial two points to enter the period with at least a modicum of momentum.
Meanwhile, the Giants go into the game by taking only 5 out of a possible 16 points on offer so far this season, with a hard fought 16-all draw at Wigan being undone by conceding a combined total of 80 points in their recent defeats against Leeds and Castleford. With no wins in their last five games, the visitors will be looking to kick start their season against a team only one point ahead of them in the table. After missing out on the top 8 and narrowly avoiding the million pound game last year, it was believed that the Giants would be inspired to perform this year, however it seems this is not the case.
Saints welcome back Adam Swift to the squad, after he missed last week with an arm injury sustained in the victory over Warrington. He will make his 100th appearance for the club in the game, celebrating his new two year deal signed this week. Theo Fages is also included after recovering from a head knock against Salford. The absence of James Roby is puzzling however, with no news of him being injured, whilst Jack Owens also drops out.
The Giants make three changes to their squad, with skipper Danny Brough returning following the end of his suspension. Also returning are Nathan Mason and Aaron Murphy, with their places being taken at the expense of Ryan Brierley, Daniel Smith and Gene Ormsby.
This game should be closer than most people think, with both sides appearing to be out of form and ideas. The Giants, whilst being low on confidence and out of form, will have to start picking up points at some stage, and could be sparked by the return of the mercurial Danny Brough and boosted by the absence of talismanic James Roby. It is perhaps a little early to call this a relegation battle, however both teams need to start picking up wins if they want to make the super 8’s before the split after round 23.
St Helens Squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Adam Swift, Theo Fages, Matty Smith, Alex Walmsley, Kyle Amor, Jon Wilkin, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Douglas, Adam Walker, Tommy Lee, Dominique Peyroux, Greg Richards, Morgan Knowles, Matty Fleming, Zeb Taia.
Huddersfield Squad: Jermaine McGillvary, Leroy Cudjoe, Lee Gaskell, Aaron Murphy, Danny Brough, Sam Rapira, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Shannon Wakeman, Dale Ferguson, Kruise Leeming, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Oliver Roberts, Ukuma Ta’ai, Paul Clough, Nathan Mason, Tyler Dickinson, Sam Wood, Darnell McIntosh, Alex Mellor.