Opposition Profile: St Helens

Picture by Paul Currie/SWpix.com - 04/09/2020 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League - Huddersfield Giants v St Helens - Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - St Helens' Theo Fages celebrates after kicking the winning gf point

Fresh after their triumph at Wembley Stadium, Coral Challenge Cup winners Leeds Rhinos return to Betfred Super League action against the reigning Champions St Helens at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday night as part of the Black History Round, kick off 7:45pm.

Ahead of this classic fixture, let’s take a look at Kristian Woolf’s side:


Overview

Despite a slow start to 2020, St Helens’ form since August has put the Red V as favourites to lift the League Leaders’ Shield once again. Kristian Woolf’s appointment looked to be a good one, due to his recent success with the Tongan national side and spells as assistant coach at North Queensland Cowboys, Brisbane Broncos and Newcastle Knights, and he has definitely filled the boots of former coach Justin Holbrook so far.

It was clear that the World Club Challenge clash with Sydney Roosters had taken a toll as Saints didn’t win a match between losing to the NRL Premiers and the League shutting down. Only wins over Salford and Hull FC prior to the World Club showdown had put the Champions off the pace of League rivals Wigan, Leeds and Castleford, but on their return to action in August, Saints have been back at their best.

When the two sides clashed at Emerald Headingley following the restart, St Helens were brutal, winning 48-0 thanks to a hat trick from Regan Grace.

James Graham was a huge arrival at the Totally Wicked Stadium just before the League restarted and the club legend didn’t miss a beat on his second debut (a 34-6 win over Catalans Dragons at Emerald Headingley). A nine match unbeaten run since has seen Woolf’s side regain the top of the table spot on win percentage and only local rivals Wigan seem to be the team that can take it away from them when the two sides clash on 30th October.


Last Time Out in Super League

St Helens continued their unbeaten run in the League by demolishing Wakefield Trinity 48-6. Only four points had separated the two sides only a week before but Woolf’s men were clinical at the Halliwell Jones Stadium; Tommy Makinson scoring a hat trick while young half back Lewis Dodd also recorded his first try in a Saints shirt.


Key Players

ALEX WALMSLEY

Position: Prop

Leads the League in metres made (1987)

Also ranks fifth in tries (9), second in tackle busts (69) and seven in overall carries (225)

On course to collect his sixth piece of domestic silverware with the Saints

Bio: England and Great Britain international Walmsley is once again proving why he is the best prop in Super League. His stats this season speak for themselves, in particular his metres, which he leads the League in. In a lethal forward pack that has found its mojo since August, his weekly performances will continue to inspire the players around him.

TOMMY MAKINSON

Position: Wing

Named in the Super League Dream Team for a third time last season

Kicked a drop goal in Saints’ Grand Final win over Salford in 2019

Debuted for England in 2018, when he won the Rugby League International Federation’s Golden Boot

Bio: Following a five match ban, winger Makinson has made an explosive return to action. Last year’s top try scorer doubled his season tally (6) against Wakefield last week, scoring three tries, and could improve his total of tries against Leeds on Friday.


Previous Meetings

Out of the 80 matches played between Leeds and St Helens in all competitions, there has always been a winner.

Saints have won the most on home soil, starting with a 42-16 result as the ‘Red V’ went on to win their first Super League title in 1996. In 2004, they kept second place in the League table with a 56-10 result over the Rhinos in round nine (Jason Hooper scoring two tries and kicking two goals), but the eventual League Leaders wouldn’t lie down when the two sides met again in the penultimate match of the campaign; Kevin Sinfield kicking a drop goal and then setting up Matt Diskin to mark an epic fightback from the Rhinos to win 25-10.

Over the last decade, St Helens have made the Totally Wicked Stadium a fortress when the Rhinos have visited. The home side notably took away two wins last season against Leeds, with nine different players scoring tries in the 27-22 and 36-10 results.

At Knowsley Road in 2004, Leeds came from behind to defeat St Helens 25-10, thanks to a drop goal from Sinfield and late try from Matt Diskin.

Leeds have only won three times at the Totally Wicked Stadium inside the last decade. The most memorable of those came in 2015 when Ash Handley announced himself onto the Super Leaue stage with a first half hat trick. Having won ten out eleven games to start the new season, the Rhinos were ruthless; Handley’s hat trick being supported by further tries from Zak Hardaker and Danny McGuire as Leeds took a 28-6 lead into the break. Liam Sutcliffe and Joel Moon sealed the result in the second half, leaving the Rhinos at the top of the table.

Last Ten Meetings at the Totally Wicked Stadium

St Helens 36 Leeds Rhinos 10 (Round 19, 21/06/19)

St Helens 27 Leeds Rhinos 22 (Round 3, 22/02/19)

St Helens 20 Leeds Rhinos 28 (Round 6, 16/03/18)

St Helens 6 Leeds Rhinos 4 (Round 1, 09/02/17)

St Helens 38 Leeds Rhinos 34 (Round 12, 22/04/16)

St Helens 16 Leeds Rhinos 41 (Round 11, 17/04/15)

St Helens 14 Leeds Rhinos 10 (Round 7, 28/03/14)

St Helens 12 Leeds Rhinos 20 (Round 5, 01/03/13)

St Helens 46 Leeds Rhinos 6 (Round 8, 25/03/12)

St Helens 42 Leeds Rhinos 16 (Round 16, 03/06/11)


Head to Head


Record against the Rhinos

St Helens have seven more wins against Leeds in Super League. This includes four Play Off wins (1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008), which on three occasions has seen St Helens reach the Grand Final. The Rhinos’ record also includes four play off wins (1998, 2005, 2013 and 2015) as well as the four Grand Finals when Leeds have beaten St Helens to lift the Super League trophy (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011).

In terms of form in St Helens, at Knowsley Road and the Totally Wicked Stadium, Saints have walked away with the victory on 19 occasions. In 1999, 2002, 2006 and 2019, St Helens won twice on home soil and between 2009 and 2012, the Rhinos failed to record a win on the road against Saints.

Leeds’ last win at the Totally Wicked Stadium came in 2018. It was only the third time in the last decade that the Rhinos had won a regular season game against St Helens on the road.

The Rhinos have picked up wins away at St Helens ten times, the first coming in 1998. Leeds won back to back games with a 22-10 result in 2007 and a 14-10 victory in 2008 prior to the four year winless run. Two tries for Ryan Hall in 2013 helped Leeds break that streak, with the winger currently holding the record for the most tries against the Saints, crossing 14 times both home and away.


Team News


Last Game Against the Rhinos at Totally Wicked Stadium

Leeds and Saints met for the second time at the Totally Wicked Stadium in 2019 and the eventual League Leaders and Grand Final winners proved too good in a 36-10 result. Only five points had separated the two sides back in February but Kevin Naiqama’s try after only a minute set the tone. Brad Dwyer and Luke Briscoe crossed the whitewash for the Rhinos but further tries from Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson and James Bentley sent the home side away with the two league points.