Smith welcomes Saints' return to form
Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith is hoping a rejuvenated St Helens can help kick-start his team’s campaign in tomorrow’s Stobart Super League derby at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Although the Wolves top the table after eight rounds, Smith is a worried man, insisting they have yet to find the form that earned them the League Leaders’ Shield last year.
They have won each of their last two matches by two-point margins and Smith says their start to the season is not too dissimilar to that of Saints, who sacked coach Royce Simmons after a run of narrow defeats.
Under caretaker coaching duo Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham, St Helens bounced back last Sunday with a 46-6 rout of champions Leeds Rhinos, which Smith was delighted to witness.
“You would expect at some stage they were going to find some form, which is good,” he said.
“I’d rather play Saints when they’re good and us find that bit that needs to take care of them.
“They weren’t far off in any of their games. They were getting beaten by some close margins and we could easily have been in exactly the same position with the way we’ve played and managed to scrape home.
“It’s pretty ugly, the way we’re playing at the moment. We’re making too many errors and it’s not from being expansive with the ball. It’s causing us some real grief.”
Warrington ended a run of 22 consecutive defeats by St Helens last season and went on to complete the double, but Rush’s men will be on a high following their eight-try mauling of the Rhinos.
“We will approach the game in the same way we did with Leeds,” said Rush.
“Just because we beat Leeds doesn’t give us a God-given right to do it again this weekend. We have to earn that right.”
The game, which will mark the 300th career appearance of St Helens’ England forward Jon Wilkin, is a 15,000 sell-out - a record for the Halliwell Jones Stadium and the club’s highest attendance for 39 years.
The ground capacity was increased in the close season after the club filled in two of the corners, enabling them to beat the previous record of 14,206 established for the opening game in 2004.
Leeds and Huddersfield Giants will both be looking to bounce back from defeat when they meet at Headingley tomorrow.
While the Rhinos’ four-match winning run came to an abrupt end at Saints, the Giants lost top spot after going down to Hull KR but coach Nathan Brown remains upbeat.
“It wasn’t a slip-up,” he said. “Hull KR are a dangerous team and, if they play well and you only play okay or your effort isn’t quite where it needs to be, then they will beat you. We got beat by a good team.”
Huddersfield ended a 51-year wait for a win at Headingley last April when they pulled off a stunning 38-6 success in a controversial match in which Australian forward Luke O’Donnell was sent off, along with Leeds prop Ryan Bailey.
Bailey is suspended but O’Donnell, who has played just seven matches in 13 months since then, makes his return from knee surgery.
All but four of the 14 Super League clubs are in action tomorrow, with Castleford Tigers and Hull FC switching from their normal Sunday slot to give them more time to prepare for a hectic Easter.
Hull look to extend their winning run to five matches when Bradford Bulls visit the KC Stadium while Castleford aim to halt a seven-match losing run when they host Hull KR.
Bradford’s players will be hoping to put their club’s financial difficulties out of their minds and maintain a 100% away record when they go to third-placed Hull FC.
“Our form away from home has been pleasing but Hull are a tough team to beat at a ground that’s very hard to go away to,” said Bulls coach Mick Potter.
With Sam Moa on compassionate leave and Wade McKinnon joining Mark O’Meley and Joe Westerman on the injury list, Hull coach Peter Gentle is ready to hand Super League debuts to Chris Green and Liam Kent.
“It’s frustrating for us to lose players of their stature, particularly two key front rowers, but that is part of the game,” he said.
“It gives our younger guys the chance to come in and take their chance, like we have seen Josh Bowden do in recent weeks.”
Salford City Reds will be hoping to inflict a fourth defeat of the season on Wigan Warriors when they meet at Barton.
The Reds have lost their last 11 matches against the Warriors since knocking them out of the Challenge Cup in 2006 but they can draw level in the table with them with victory tomorrow.
After suffering heavy back-to-back defeats by Catalan Dragons and Leeds, Salford coach Phil Veivers says normal service was resumed with last Sunday’s win at Bradford.
“There have been only two games where we’ve been poor,” he said. “For the other six, I think we’ve been pretty consistent.”