Thursday, 2 October 2014

Super League Play Off Semi Finals Preview

"Just one more push, lads" - a quote that four Super League coaches are sure to replicate over the next two nights as the season reaches its penultimate stage with the play off semi finals with League Leaders Shield winners St Helens, Catalan Dragons and last seasons Grand Final pair of Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves competing for a trip to Old Trafford.

Tonight's clash sees table toppers St Helens host surprise package Catalan Dragons after Saints used their Clubcall to avoid Warrington and choose an 'easier' option in the travelling Catalan side.

St Helens will be looking to reach the Grand Final for the first time since their 2011 defeat to Leeds while looking to fix a disastrous record in the showpiece event of five consecutive defeats and go into the sudden death qualifier with three wins in their last five games. The Saints have had the advantage of a week's rest after routing Castleford 41-0 in week one but will be wary of a Catalan side brimming with confidence.

Catalan have defied many odds this year to even to make the play offs having been tipped for relegation after losing each of their five opening games but a superb end to the season has seen them win five consecutive games including dispatching the Yorkshire duo of Leeds (24-20) and Huddersfield (18-16) in the last fortnight.

The sides have a win apiece from their regular season meetings with St Helens winning 40-22 in March before they were humiliated 42-0 in June by a rampant Catalan performance and will be glad to be at home at Langtree Park tonight given Catalan only suffered two defeats in Perpignan across the season.

St Helens are still without the services of star trio Jon Wilkin, Luke Walsh and Jonny Lomax but will be buoyed by the return of Alex Walmsley from suspension while Catalan name an unchanged squad but have a few minor injury doubts.

St Helens : Makinson, Turner, Jones, Swift, Hohaia, Masoe, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Laffranchi, Flanagan, Amor, Wellens, Walmsley, Percival, Wheeler, Richards, Thompson.
Catalan Dragons: Escare, Pomeroy, Oldfield, Bosc, Elima, Henderson, Lima, Taia, Anderson, Mounis, Maria, Pelissier, Whitehead, Millard, Bousquet, Baitieri, Duport, Garcia, Williams.

Two main factors could decide this game with a fresh but mixed form St Helens favourites against a tired but in-form Catalan and I will defy the odds and tip the Dragons for success so St Helens 22 Catalan 26.

Tomorrow night sees a repeat of last season's Grand Final as champions Wigan host runners-up Warrington in a clash that many pundits tipped to be this season's Grand Final but sadly for the duo only one will fulfil that vision.

This time last year, Warrington would have been delighted to face Wigan given that they had not suffered defeat to the Warriors since 2010 in the league programme but a superb turnaround in the last 12 months will mean that the Wolves faithful will be the more fearful of the two sets of fans.

Wigan staged a superb comeback from 16-2 down at Old Trafford to stun Warrington with a 30-16 victory, a defeat that Warrington will be keen to avenge should they knock Wigan out of the running tomorrow. However, Wigan secured a league double over Warrington for the first time in 11 years with a battling 12-4 win back in March before securing a 24-20 win at the DW Stadium just three weeks ago.

Ironically both sides go into the game with three wins and a draw from their last five games with the only differences being Wigan winning their last three and Warrington victorious in their last two after the Wolves lost to the Warriors on September 11th.

Wigan have a three game winning streak over Warringto with the Wolves last joy coming in a 22-12 victory last June so it is no surprise that Wigan are favourites to secure a second consecutive trip to Old Trafford.

Wigan include Scott Taylor in place of Gil Dudson in an otherwise unchanged 19 while Warrington include Matty Russell who will face a late fitness check with Stefan Ratchford likely to resume at fullback should Russell miss out with Ben Westwood and Simon Grix still sidelined.

Wigan Warriors: Bateman, Bowen, Burgess, Charnley, Clubb, Crosby, L. Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Green, Hughes, McIlorum, O'Loughlin, Pettybourne, Powell, Sarginson, Smith, Taylor, Tomkins.
Warrington Wolves: Asotasi, Atkins, C. Bridge, Currie, England, B. Evans, R. Evans, Harrison, Higham, Hill, Laithwaite, J. Monaghan, M. Monaghan, Myler, O'Brien, Ratchford, Russell, Waterhouse, Wood.

Usually bias is cast aside but at this stage of the season, my Warrior soul shines through and I hope to be booking tickets for Old Trafford after a Wigan win so Wigan 24 Warrington 22.