St Helens go into their game against Leeds as overwhelming favourites and will be looking to extend their lead at the top to six points.
The league leaders are unbeaten since April, so it will be a significant test for Leeds if they are to cause an upset. The Rhinos are coming off the back of loss to Huddersfield, but they put on two impressive performances in wins against Wakefield and Warrington in the two weeks prior.
The clash comes at a key time of the season for Leeds who currently sit in eighth place. A shock win against Saints would massively boost their hopes of making the top six, with three points to make up on sixth place Castleford.
There is just the one change for Saints. Curtis Sironen comes into the 21-man squad in the place of the suspended James Bell, which will likely mean a straight replacement in the back row. Morgan Knowles and Jonny Lomax are also named despite questions over their fitness after their absence from last week’s international clash. Aidan Sezer is back in the fold for Leeds after the halfback has been sidelined for two months with a groin injury. Prop forward Matt Prior has been struggling with a sternum injury and will likely have to pass a fitness test to feature.
Match Preview – Key Battles
Blake Austin vs Jonny Lomax: The beginning of Austin’s time at Leeds was a turbulent one as the club struggled to pick up wins at the beginning of the campaign. However, since the arrival of new coach Rohan Smith he has showed signs that he is starting to gel with his new side. He has always posed a dangerous running threat, and his passing game has improved dramatically in recent weeks. For Lomax, he will need to do more of the same. The 31-year-old has been almost faultless in recent seasons, and his reading of the game is instrumental in Saints’ performances. If he can perform to his usual standards, he will most likely get his side over the line.
Kruise Leeming vs James Roby: Leeming missed out on a place in the England side on Saturday, but managed to impress for the All Stars and has to be considered for the World Cup. He will hope to carry on this form as he faces another strong side this Thursday. The 26-year-old has been consistent despite the Rhinos’ form this year, and if Leeds are able to create some ruck speed, he will be better placed than anyone to capitalise. James Roby won’t be fazed by the proposition of facing the in-form hooker, and will as usual focus on his own game. With the size and quality of his forwards, if Roby can perform to his usual level it will be a long day for the Rhinos defence.
Where the game will be won and lost
There’s no blueprint on how to beat St Helens, which is why it has been such a rare occurrence in recent years. However, for Leeds it would likely be best to capitalise on the quality of their own backs. With David Fusitu’a and Ash Handley on the wings, they are able to threaten Saints, and it will be better for them to avoid the St Helens’ middles. The instruction from Kristian Woolf will be to perform as they have been, and to avoid complacency which is usually why Saints slip up. They will look, as usual, to the talent of Lomax, Roby and Jack Welsby to get them over the line.
Score prediction: St Helens 24-12 Leeds Rhinos