St Helens hoodoo counts against jaded Tigers.
League Leader’s Shield winners St Helens begin the Super League play-offs in the box-seat with a home tie against fourth-placed Castleford at tonight, yet are quoted at bigger prices now for Grand Final glory than at virtually any point of the season.
Yes that’s right, despite a theoretical ‘armchair ride’ to the Final from pole position, we only make the Saints 5/1 fourth favourites to win the big prize after they limped over the finishing line with successive defeats against Warrington and Huddersfield, albeit bravely in the latter.
In truth, Saints have never looked quite the same team since losing influential playmakers Luke Walsh, Johnny Lomax and Jon Wilkin earlier in the summer but, for all their current vulnerability, it would still require a leap of faith to expect Castleford to beat them here.
Make no mistake, St Helens are Castleford’s bogey side with a capital ‘B’. Not only have they lost their last 13 meetings with Saints in all competitions, they haven’t managed a single win on Merseyside since the days of Tewera Nikau, Graham Steadman and Lee Crooks in 1992!
True to form – in a season where the Tigers have been competitive in virtually ever game – they were abject when Saints easily brushed them aside by 38-16 in the corresponding game of the regular season at Langtree Park.
A hoodoo of such proportions cannot be ignored and goes a long way to explaining why we make Castleford as big as 15/8 on Friday night because – judging the current sides purely on their merits – there isn’t a lot between them, particularly with Saints missing boom forward Alex Walmsley through suspension.
Both sides like to play at a fast tempo behind a mobile set of forwards and rely heavily on the electric dummy half work of respective hookers James Roby and Daryl Clark, whilst boasting plenty of speed on the flanks.
That clash between the old master Roby and his young pretender Clark really should be something to savour and will go a long way to deciding this contest.
Castleford – quoted as big as 200-1 for the Grand Final at the beginning of the season – are at virtually full-strength coming into this game but it was worrying to hear coach Daryl Powell use the dreaded F word – “fatigue” – to explain away their error-strewn defeat against the Catalans in Perpignan last weekend.
A contest of such attrition in the energy-sapping climes of the south of France, exacerbated by the travel inconvenience which goes with it, isn’t the best preparation for a play-off game, particularly as the Tigers are already bound to be feeling jaded after their Challenge Cup Final exertions.
So, though Saints too will be feeling the effects of a brave 12-man effort against Huddersfield in a bruising affair last weekend, they look the safest bet to make it through to the next round of the play-offs.
From a betting perspective, the value may once again be in the half-time/full-time market, with a Castleford/St Helens outcome available at 11/2.
The match kicks off at 8.00pm on Friday night at St Helens’ Langtree Park.