Tomorrow, Super League XXVII starts the way last season ended with a blockbuster clash between St Helens and Catalans Dragons.
In the last game of 2021, St Helens secured a record-equalling third consecutive title with a 12-10 triumph over the Dragons at Old Trafford which wasn’t without a touch of controversy. It was a superb Grand Final between the two best sides and many believe the pair will be the benchmark again in 2022 making this season opener and Grand Final rematch all the more intriguing.
The winner will lay down a marker against the other favourite and no doubt fully cement themselves as the outright favourites to win the Grand Final in September. But just how will this seismic clash pan out? We’re attempting to answer that looking at the key battles, where the game will be won and lost and predicting the result.
Jack Welsby v Sam Tomkins: In the eyes of many, Jack Welsby could be the next Sam Tomkins. Previously vocal about how he looked up to the two-time Man of Steel, tomorrow’s game will see Welsby settle into the fullback role properly for the first time after being given the number one shirt. A natural try scorer, he registered 13 four-pointers last year along with a further 13 assists. But to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and he’ll be taking on the reigning Man of Steel tomorrow. The fulcrum of the Catalans attack with over 20 assists last year, Tomkins goes into 2022 as the league’s best player and he’ll want to remind everyone why tomorrow.
Jonny Lomax v Mitchell Pearce: Super League’s best stand-off for the last four years takes on a real threat to his throne in the shape of Mitchell Pearce tomorrow. Pearce has done pretty much everything and there’s no one playing the game at present with more NRL appearances than the State of Origin winner. He’ll want to make a good first impression but comes up against the lynchpin of St Helens’ recent success in the shape of Jonny Lomax who manages to blend organisation and creativity masterfully.
Sione Mata’utia and Joe Batchelor v Matt Whitley and Mike McMeeken
Matt Whitley and Mike McMeeken really caught the eye in 2021. McMeeken was at his best again and he and Whitley both showed how dangerous they could be in attack throughout the campaign so it’ll be key to St Helens’ success tomorrow that Sione Mata’utia and Joe Batchelor contain the threat of their opposite numbers. The duo themselves are great workers and Mata’utia showed why he’s Australia’s youngest ever international towards the end of last season with some touches of class.
Where the game will be won and lost:
The most important area of the field will ultimately be down the middle. With the likes of Alex Walmsley and Morgan Knowles, St Helens have the strongest squad in the league and will look to blow the Dragons apart down the middle. If Catalans can weather the strong from Walmsley and co and bring on impact subs like Sam Kasiano and Tyrone May, they could begin to turn the game in their favour.
Beyond that the finishing power of the two Toms Davies and Makinson could be crucial. Who has the better chances and takes them down the right edges may settle the contest.
St Helens have home advantage, but they’ve also experienced more change this off-season than they have for a number of years. The Dragons may hope that having a more settled side complimented by a few new signings could catch the Saints off guard who will have an almost completely different spine to the one who started last season.
However, Saints’ quality remains and with home advantage and a slightly superior pack they could edge the opener.
Verdict: St Helens 24-18 Catalans