A First At Leigh
Friday (April 7) sees the first ever league clash between Leigh Centurions and Catalans Dragons. Neil Jukes’ side are back at the top level for the first time since 2005 while the French side made their Super League bow a year later. Yet amid all the new acquaintances and how-do-you-dos both will be desperate to get the two points and move up the table.
If anything, and somewhat surprisingly, Catalans’ need is greater. They have won just two of their first seven matches and sit a disappointing ninth in the table. And all of that has happened after early season wins over Warrington and Hull FC seemed to mark them out as a top four contender. Yet here they find themselves in desperate need of a win if they are to avoid being cut adrift from the main contenders in the first week of April.
By contrast Leigh have probably exceeded even their own expectations in their first season after promotion from the Championship. They are only a point better off than the Dragons and would drop below them with a defeat, but nevertheless three wins from their first eight outings is probably something which Jukes would have bitten your hand off for at the start of the season. That those three victims are all recent playoff teams (St Helens, Huddersfield and Warrington) is a further boost the confidence of the Centurions. Yet they were reminded of the consistency needed to compete at this level when they went down 37-24 to a previously uninspired Widnes Vikings side last time out.
Former Dragon Glenn Stewart returns to the Leigh side following suspension while hooker Eloi Pelissier will also be keen to impress against his former side. Curiously, coach Laurent Frayssinous has only named an 18-man squad as he waits for the outcome of Tony Gigot’s disciplinary procedure. The fullback has not made an appearance yet for the Dragons so far in 2017 after some as yet undetermined tomfoolery involving a doping official. His presence could be another first, and would be a real boost to the Dragons’ hopes of getting their season back on track.
First choice wingers Fouad Yaha and Jodie Broughton are still out as are influential pack men Justin Horo and Greg Bird, while the experienced half Thomas Bosc will also be absent in what is a crucial game for the Perpignan side.
Stuttering Saints And Their 9-Shaped Hole
It’s not been a great season for Saints so far. Just when you thought it was getting better for them following wins over Catalans and Warrington they fell off the metaphorical wagon again last week in losing 22-14 at Salford. It was a second consecutive loss at the AJ Bell Stadium for Keiron Cunningham’s side, and one which leaves them in the relative abyss of seventh after a not so magnificent seven league games.
Not helping their cause this week at home to Huddersfield Giants is the loss of James Roby to a knee injury. Tommy Lee was brought in from Salford Red Devils to allow Roby to play less minutes yet the Lee now finds himself as the likely starter as Saints scratch around for someone to throw on as a back-up. Morgan Knowles looks the favourite, although Theo Fages has recovered from his first-minute head thump at the AJ Bell and is perhaps another option. All of which would probably necessitate another appearance in the halves for Jon Wilkin, a man surely better off and more needed in the back row given the absolute state of Saints’ second row.
Anyone who saw Ryan Morgan run down by Mark Flanagan while in the clear at Salford will agree that the return of Adam Swift from injury is a major boost to Saints, who could drop out of the top eight with a defeat to Rick Stone’s side. A quick look at the Giants squad doesn’t inspire confidence for them even though Danny Brough returns from suspension in place of Ryan Brierley. The Scotland half missed last week’s 52-16 chasing by Castleford after getting involved in an unscheduled bout with Leeds Rhinos’ Carl Ablett, which is especially silly of him given his massive importance to everything the Giants do in attack. Elsewhere back rower Tom Symonds is still out as are Michael Lawrence and Daniel Smith.
With just two wins from their first seven outings the Giants have a Dragons-esque desperation about them. Yet you would question whether they have enough to get over the top of even a Saints side shorn of one of the league’s outstanding players over the last decade.