The first round of the Super League XXVIII play-offs concludes on Saturday afternoon when the champions St Helens look to make it into the semi-final stage of the campaign when they host the Warrington Wolves at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
St Helens finished level on points with the leaders Wigan Warriors but an inferior point difference meant they could only finish third in the standings and didn’t get this week off. Warrington got into the play-offs in the final week of the season and want to make the most of it.
Where to watch
We have two channels offering up this match. You can watch it on Sky Sports Arena or Channel 4 with the build-up beginning on the former at 12.15pm and the latter at 12.30pm. Kick off is at 12.45pm.
After a very indifferent first third of the season, St Helens have certainly looked like the champion side we have become accustomed to seeing them be in the latter two-thirds of the campaign. They came home in the regular season with a real flourish and while they would have wanted to finish in the top two in the table and get both this week off and a home semi-final next week, they have had a few players out injured over the course of the season so I don’t think freshness will be an issue.
You know when St Helens have their game in good working order because they pin down the hatches and are so very hard to score points against so the fact that they have conceded just 56 points in their last six matches bodes very well for them. They head into this eliminator off the back of nine straight wins in the Super League. If there is a question mark it is that their attack still isn’t as potent in terms of points as they might want it to be but that is nit picking.
It has kind of been the exact opposite of a campaign for the Warrington Wolves. They absolutely flew out of the traps this season and were unbeaten after eight matches and looking like they would contend for the League Leaders’ Shield as well as the Super League title but a crazy slump ensued that lasted so long they could have dropped out of the play-offs altogether on the final night of the regular season. They scraped in and you wonder if they are playing with the pressure off now.
Warrington head into this match off the back of just four wins in their last 16 matches in all competitions and they probably don’t need me to remind them that they have lost their last six to St Helens, three of which have been this season. While they haven’t been blown away in those three losses this year, they have managed just 32 points in them so if they are going to have any joy here they will need to find their best form in attack once again.
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St Helens are close to full strength for this eliminator although there is one change from the squad which beat Hull FC with Dan Norman coming in for the suspended George Delaney. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook plays his final home match here, as does the great James Roby.
Warrington Wolves will be without a couple of players for this eliminator clash. Paul Vaughan is suspended still while Warrington will also be without Josh Thewlis but importantly they do have talisman George Williams available.
Warrington Wolves are a dangerous side but we often see when the pressure comes on them and that moment to step up and be counted comes along they tend to wilt rather than climb to the moment and away to St Helens is the recipe for that to happen again. The big concern for Warrington going into this match is they have won just four of their last 16 encounters but they were all against teams who finished in the bottom four of the table.
St Helens haven’t always been their very best this season, especially in attack where there have been a lot of matches where that part of their game has been a little clunky but Warrington have conceded the most points of anyone in the top six this term and the longer this one goes on the stronger I expect Saints to get. It is so hard to score on St Helens in these big matches and with a home crowd cheering on a side for whom the likes of James Roby will be playing his last home game I just fancy the champions to be too good here.
Back St Helens (-10) to beat Warrington Wolves for a 3/10 stake at 1.91 with Coral