St Helens legend Paul Sculthorpe shares his thoughts and predictions for Saints’ Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final clash with Leigh Leopards at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Saturday afternoon (14:30).
When it rains, it pours – not only did Saints go down narrowly to Catalans Dragons last week, but they lost both James Roby and Mark Percival to injury and consequently the pair look set to miss this weekend’s do-or-die Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final.
It was a huge opportunity for Paul Wellens and co. to continue their climb back to the summit, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
It was always going to be a tough game against the Dragons, who retain their position at the top of the Betfred Super League. The game had a play-off feel about it, with both teams going toe-to-toe for 80 minutes.
Paul Wellens commented after the game how proud he was of his troops, especially considering the disruption of losing two key figures. I thought Percy was possibly the best player on the field at the time of his exit.
He also spoke about the ‘speed’ of the Catalans’ defensive line. I was at the game and frankly I want to know what the fitness regime is in France that means they can produce that for the full game… within the rules! I think it was clear to see from everyone in the Totally Wicked Stadium that this wasn’t the case.
Well, it worked, and the Dragons certainly put our playmakers under huge pressure. We’ve certainly not been at our best on the attacking front this season, which is something Wello will be well aware of.
For me, Lewis Dodd needs to have more influence with the ball and start playing at the line more and being a genuine run threat. This will make defences more accountable around him, creating more opportunities and space for the players around him.
Let’s hope they are on top attacking form this weekend because they will need to be. The loss of both Roby and Percival is huge, but it does give someone else a chance to shine on the big stage.
Who’d have thought at the beginning of the year that a semi-final against Leigh Leopards would be such a daunting occasion. Fair play to Derek Beaumont and everyone at the club for what they have done so far this season. Sat in second on the Betfred Super League and being just 80 minutes away from a Wembley Cup final must seem like a dream – but they’ve earned the right to be there.
The Leopards are on a high at the moment. They recruited shrewdly for life back in Super League and have reignited the careers of players like Josh Charnley and Zak Hardaker.
Despite all that, Saints are 1/2 favourites with title sponsors Betfred to come out on top on Saturday and book their ticket to Wembley on August 12.
I still truly believe we have the best team and the experience in games of this magnitude. I’m going for the lads to win by 10 or more points.
As for the second Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final at Headingley on Sunday, I fancy Wigan to beat Hull KR by at least 16 points.