Preview: St Helens v Leeds (Fri)

St Helens play host to Leeds Rhinos tonight in a blockbuster tie as the 2018 favourites are pitted against Super League’s most successful team and it promises to be a mouthwatering match.

The hosts are, naturally, the favourites. A superb start to the season has seen Justin Holbrook’s men record five straight wins playing the exciting rugby league that we saw glimpses of in 2017 after he took charge midway through the season. A fierce pack marshalled by Louis McCarthy Scarsbrook and a team guided around the pitch by dynamic youngster Danny Richardson with the talent and flair of mercurial Aussie Ben Barba thrown in; they are justifiable favourites for both this match and the competition.

Holbrook however, poured cold water on the praise, explaining that “Leeds are the defending champions so they are probably the ones everyone has to chase and we are no different.” So far, the Rhinos have lost one Super League game this season, a 23-6 reverse at Widnes when they had a bunch of academy youngsters and understudies playing. Already this season they have beaten Warrington and Hull FC, indicating that Leeds certainly shouldn’t be written off. They won last weekend against the latter largely thanks to superb defensive work from the team, something of a Rhinos’ trademark under Brian McDermott and it is something which will need to be there in spades tonight; Saints have scored just under 32 points a game on average so far and, with Leeds averaging less than half of that, defence looks to be key for the visitors.

Leeds haven’t got the best record when playing Saints at Langtree Park and have only won two of the six matches between the two at the venue. Last year’s meeting – and season opener – saw Saints prevail 6-4. At Headingley, however, Leeds won both meetings by the same margin last year, one in the regular season and one in the Super 8s. Form and venue, however, are definitely with the Saints.

Leeds’ injury problems will also make the game difficult for Leeds as Mitch Garbutt has joined those in the treatment room. Indeed, Brett Ferres, Adam Cuthbertson, Stevie Ward and Liam Sutcliffe would be included in any Leeds seventeen if fit and new signing Nathaniel Peteru and Jimmy Keinhorst are also out injured. That will leave the Rhinos short in the pack with youngsters and back ups included in the nineteen man squad. St Helens are without juggernaut Alex Walmsley due to an injury suffered last weekend which Morgan Knowles continues his four match suspension handed out earlier in the season.

Score prediction: Saints by 8

St Helens squad: Amor, Barba, Douglas, Fages, Grace, Lomax, Lees, Makinson, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Morgan, Percival, Peyroux, Richardson, Roby, Smith, Swift, Taia, Thompson, Wilkin.

Leeds Rhinos squad: Ablett, Briscoe, Delaney, Dwyer, Golding, Hall, Handley, Jones-Buchanan, Moon, Mullally, Myler, Oledzki, Ormondroyd, Parcell, Singleton, Smith, Walker, Walters, Watkins.

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