Saints must shake off cup hangover
St Helens joint-captain Paul Wellens will make his 400th appearance for the club against Huddersfield Giants tomorrow night, with his side looking to put their Challenge Cup disappointments behind them.
Wellens, with every domestic honour in the game to his name, will lead Royce Simmons' third-placed men out against a side who sit just a point and a place behind them.
With just four games remaining, a top-two finish is effectively out of the Saints' grasp, but a top three-finish is not.
They will need to have shaken off the hangover of their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Wigan Warriors, though, on what will be a special night for 31-year-old Wellens, and Simmons has made that clear to his players.
"We have a lot to play for this week,” he said.
“We can be down and disappointed or we can say we are playing this week and it's Paul Wellens' 400 game for the club; a bloke that all the players love playing with as he competes every time he goes out on the field.
"I can't get my head around playing 400 games. I played about 250 and I can't walk! He has played so long for one club and been part of so many victories, cups and Grand Finals.”
Simmons has a number of injury concerns to deal with too, with Kyle Eastmond (groin) and Jonny Lomax, Chris Flannery and Tommy Makinson (all dead leg) out injured.
Gary Wheeler does return to the side, though, having not played since Good Friday owing to a shoulder problem.
Huddersfield coach Nathan Brown, whose side are looking for a first win at St Helens since 1978, hopes last weekend`s loss has left the Merseyside club fatigued.
“Hopefully they'll be tired,” he said.
“But they'll look to regroup and with the Challenge Cup gone, they`re only up for one trophy like the majority of us.”
Tomorrow night also sees a repeat of last weekend`s other semi-final, the thriller between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers.
Kevin Sinfield’s nerveless penalty sent Leeds to Wembley for the second season in a row after an engaging clash went to golden point extra-time.
The fixture list has thrown up an instant rematch at Headingley, but Leeds coach Brian McDermott is not allowing his players to act as though they have won anything by reaching the final.
“I don’t think we've achieved anything yet,” he said.
“You’re talking to a coach that has a team with a fair amount of determination.”
Leeds are sixth in the table after an in-out season, and McDermott has revealed his ambition of winning all four remaining games, starting with the Tigers tomorrow.
“This game is approached by a team who are not lying where they want to be,” he added.
“Dare I say it, I want us to win our last four games now. That’s what our goals are.”
Castleford expect to be without star man Rangi Chase who has yet to return from Australia following a court appearance, while Leeds are missing Brett Delaney with a groin injury.
Hull FC need to win their clash with fifth-placed Catalan Dragons at the KC Stadium to shore up their top-eight hopes.
A four-way battle between them, Hull KR, Salford City Reds and Bradford Bulls has seen them all pass up the opportunity to cement themselves in eighth place, but as its current incumbents, Hull are in the box seat.
Coach Richard Agar has spent the week batting away suggestions he has agreed to coach Wakefield next season and today defended his position at the club.
“It was a misguided story that took me by surprise like it took a lot of people by surprise,” he said.
“When I read the article I was disappointed. There are some scurrilous people about, but as we know there is a lot of gossip and rumour in sport, some of it right but a lot of it wrong.”
The day’s other game sees the Crusaders RL return to the Racecourse Ground for the first time since the collapse of their Engage Super League licence application.
They backed-up the news that they would not be a top-flight club beyond this season with a win at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last time out, and face fellow strugglers Harlequins RL in Wrexham.
And despite concerns for the future of the sport in Wales, one of the club`s rising stars, Lloyd White, insists it is business as usual for him and his national team-mates.
“What’s happened with Crusaders hasn’t dampened the spirits of the Welsh players,” he said.
“Players like myself who have played in the reserves at Crusaders and then gone through to play at senior level have showed this year that we can compete and we’ve proved ourselves in Super League.
“After what’s happened lots of us have been picked up by other clubs and that has been a confidence boost for us because it shows that we are good enough as players.”