Saints legend Paul Sculthorpe previews the Betfred Challenge Cup tie between Halifax Panthers and St Helens on Friday evening (19:45).

Halifax Panthers vs St Helens Tips

The only way to start this week’s column is by paying tribute to the man that is James Roby, who on Saturday became St Helens RFC’s record appearance holder.

Robes put on the Red V for the 532nd time, overtaking the great Kel Coslett, and must surely now be acknowledged as the greatest player of the Super League era, if not the game as a whole.

That’s something his coach and friend Paul Wellens concurs with. Wello has actually said that despite Robes winning the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel Award in 2007 he has actually played his best rugby since.

I’ve always said this about Robes… the appearances alone are impressive, but when you look at the involvement and quality during those 20 years it is truly staggering.

I bet there aren’t many games where James hasn’t topped the tackle count, touched the ball more than anyone else or covered the most metres. He’s always right there at the heart of the action, which in itself is a huge testimony to his fitness and dedication.

Unsurprisingly, Robes looked embarrassed to receive a guard of honour prior to the Salford game. He’s never been one to crave attention or plaudits, it’s always been more about inspiring his team and winning trophies.

He’s always been destined to lead from the front as Saints skipper. A very calming influence, super-disciplined and someone who reads a game superbly – but more than anything a genuine lovely bloke.

There’s no way Saints could have ruined his big day with anything less than a win against a confident Salford Red Devils.

However, it didn’t instantly go to plan with the home side going 12 points behind with over 30 minutes  played. Thankfully, the second half saw the Saints of old – a team that came out of the blocks and earned the right to play the attacking football synonymous with this great club – reappear. Twenty six subsequent unanswered points saw the champions win 26-12 and send their skipper off on his special day with a win.

The win still leaves us down in 7th on the Betfred Super League table. Despite that, Betfred continue to make us 9/4 favourites for more Grand Final glory, with Wire at 5/2 followed by Wigan at 11/4.

Paul Wellens is far from happy with current performances and has made a point that one of the factors letting the side down is discipline – and it just must improve. This is a point he will be ramming home this weekend as we face Betfred Championship side Halifax Panthers in the Challenge Cup over in Yorkshire.

This won’t be an easy game as the Panthers will no doubt relish the opportunity to play against the four-time Super League champions, and no doubts Wello will use this as a chance to rotate his squad.

Of course, I’m backing a Saints victory – and by at least 31 points (11/10).


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