Saints looking to vanquish the Red Devils.
St Helens will be looking for a return to the Super League summit when they host the misfiring Salford Red Devils at Langtree Park on Friday. With many lucky Saints fans attending the big game thanks to our generous ticket giveaway on Twitter, we’re delighted to bring you this match preview for those who can’t make it!
The Merseysiders currently lie just one point behind Leeds in the Super League ladder, but a victory here could easily see them snatch back top spot with the Rhinos facing a testing trip to in-form Warrington.
Having fired a cryptic, verbal broadside in the wake of an abject defeat against Warrington at the Magic Weekend, Saints coach Nathan Brown certainly got the response he wanted from his team against Huddersfield last Friday.
The 41-22 victory maybe wasn’t ‘vintage St Helens’ but it was certainly their best performance for a number of weeks. Inspired by the old guard of champion hooker James Roby and Super League’s joint-record appearance maker Paul Wellens, the Saints stung their opponents with three tries in the opening 13 minutes and never looked in any real danger from that point. With Wellens set to become the all-out record League appearance holder in his own right, it promises to be a night to remember at Langtree Park as he kits out for the 420th time.
Brown has picked the same 19-man squad here which means he must still do without a number of pack big-guns, including Alex Walmsley, Kyle Amor and Willie Manu.
However, he will have been encouraged by the way a number of his fringe players upped their game to surprisingly win the physical battle vs the Giants, notably much-touted Samoan behemoth Mose Masoe who finally showed what he is made of with a series of defence-scattering charges.
Saints will be banking on big Mose getting them on the front foot once again because there is no scope to drop their physical intensity against an aggressive Salford outfit which – for all its shortcomings in other areas – is able to boast a pack full of experienced big men in the shape of Adrian Morley, Gareth Hock, Tony Puletua, Harrison Hansen and Darryl Griffin.
Following a well-intentioned spending spree from colourful owner Marwan Koukash, things just haven’t quite happened for the Red Devils on the pitch this year. The much-trumpeted “revolution” Koukash was promising has settled into a rather slower form of evolution and, following a winless streak of seven games, those wondering ‘when’ Salford will click are now saying ‘if’.
Former Great Britain coach Brian Noble has already paid the penalty for a seemingly flawed recruitment policy which has left the squad top-heavy with post-prime players and incoming coach Iestyn Harris hasn’t yet been able to find the magic formula to reignite play-off aspirations, with the Red Devils particularly disappointing in defeat against a young Wigan side last week.
Just like his predecessor, Harris hasn’t been able to solve the vexed conundrum of getting significantly more out of the much-touted Tim Smith-Rangi Chase halfback partnership and, unless he is able to do that, it’s not easy to see where the Red Devils next victory will come from.
Koukash and Harris between them have correctly identified a collective lack of pace in the side – something they have already remedied for next year in the recruitment of exciting duo Kevin Locke and Ben Jones-Bishop – and you would have to think the Red Devils could again be vulnerable in that department against a mobile and energetic Saints side.
Considering that St Helens won the corresponding fixture in Salford 38-0 in February, it’s no real surprise that us bookmakers have priced them up prohibitively once again here.
However, would-be big-hitters should be mindful of the fact that there is always the potential within this Salford side to spring a surprise when it’s least expected, and odds of 7/1 are bordering on insulting, it has been argued!
Even though we fully expect St Helens to win the game, there could be some value in siding with Salford in receipt of a few points start on the handicap.
Saints v Salford kicks off at 8.00pm tomorrow night at St Helens’ Langtree Park.