The 22nd season of Super League kicks off on Thursday night at the Totally Wicked Stadium, home of St Helens. The Saints take on the Leeds Rhinos, a side looking to bounce back after a poor season in 2016, they travel to the North-West with a strong squad but missing Brett Ferres, Brett Delaney and Keith Galloway through injury. Stevie Ward said that 2017 will be a defining year for the Leeds Rhinos.
Leeds pre-season has been mixed with a 30-4 win over Hull KR and 24-0 win over Featherstone Rovers, before falling short to a 35-34 loss to Doncaster, albeit with a young side, to cap a pre-season of mixed emotions for the Yorkshire side.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan has hailed Rob Burrow in a video for the Leeds official website, marking his 500th appearance coming on Thursday night. Speaking of his younger years when people questioned whether he would make it due to his size, JJB has hailed Burrow’s ‘world-class performances’ whilst being one of the shortest players in the league, proving his doubters wrong. Skipper Danny McGuire has also appeared in a video for the Yorkshire sides official website praising his long-term team-mate and has signalled that he thoroughly deserves all the praise he receives ahead of his 500th appearance. In a decorated career, Burrow has received the Harry Sunderland Trophy twice after giving a Man of the Match performance in the 2007 and 2011 Super League Grand Finals.
St Helens will be without scrum-half new signing Matty Smith after he broke his leg against Widnes in a pre-season friendly. Kieron Cunningham spoke to BBC Radio Merseyside saying: “We’ve been forced into swapping and changing a few things with (Matty) Smith out, but you adapt.” Players such as Luke Douglas, Ryan Morgan, Adam Walker and Tommy Lee could all feature and make their debuts for St Helens after being named in their 19-man squad, meanwhile Danny Richardson could make his first top flight appearance for the side.
Saints chairman Eamonn McManus told the club’s official website: “It is a huge game for us to kick-off the season and one that is hugely important for both clubs. A lot is riding on it in terms of the atmosphere it creates in the respective clubs at the beginning of the season.” The chairman also revealed that he feels the squad are better equipped moving forward into the new season.
The Saints will want to build on a fantastic end to 2016 where they narrowly missed out on a Grand Final berth after losing out to runners-up Warrington; whatever happens, this game will be fantastic for any neutral supporters.
St Helens squad: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Swift, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Greenwood, Wilkin, Douglas, Walker, Thompson, Lee, Peyroux, Knowles, Ashworth, Richardson.
Leeds squad: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Mullally, Ormondroyd, Baldwinson.
Referee: Phil Bentham.
Touch-judges: James Child and Liam Moore.
Video Referee: Robert Hicks.