Giants And Dragons Need To Move Now
The Easter action gets under way on Wednesday night (April 12) when Huddersfield Giants host Catalans Dragons at the John Smith’s Stadium. It’s a fixture which both might consider winnable and one that both must win if they are to stay in touch with the top eight.
The Dragons are currently and quite grimly holding on to that final spot in the Super 8s but would lose it should they go down in West Yorkshire. They will fall yet further if Leigh Centurions get anything from Salford Red Devils on Good Friday. For a side fancied to challenge for the top four at the start of 2017 this is both a surprise and a disappointment which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Laurent Frayssinous’ side are still without former Giant Jodie Broughton as well as Fouad Yaha but Tony Gigot is in line to continue at fullback after making his first appearance of the season in last week’s 37-26 win at Leigh. Up front Justin Horo and Greg Bird are a huge loss to the Dragons’ pack as is Jason Baitieri.
All of which offers hope to the Giants who are coming in off the back of a spirited comeback at Saints. At 14-0 down at half-time another defeat looked on the cards for Rick Stone’s side but a second half rally earned the Giants a point in a 14-14 draw and cost Saints coach Keiron Cunningham his job. Danny Brough was at the centre of everything that the Giants created during that second half revival and will be pivotal again to their chances of gaining the win that would see them jump above the Dragons in the table and possibly above Saints and Leigh should they lose at Wigan and Salford respectively.
The return of back rower Tom Symonds to the 19-man squad will help, as will that of fullback Jake Mamo and one-time England centre Leroy Cudjoe. Darnell McIntosh scored two tries in that draw at Saints and will be unlucky if he is ousted from the starting line-up, while Ryan Brierley remains absent for Stone’s side. Dale Ferguson was injured at Saints and joins Michael Lawrence on the sidelines along with Daniel Smith and the influential Ukuma Ta’ai.
Wooden Spoon, Anyone?
Before the start of 2017 most people were predicting a long old struggle for Widnes Vikings. Yet few would have predicted similar problems for Thursday’s (April 13) opponents Warrington Wolves. The two meet at the Select Security Stadium having gained just two wins between them all season. They are locked together at the foot of the BetFred Super League table, separated only by points difference and in danger of losing touch with the rest of the field.
Warrington’s win came only last week at home to Leeds Rhinos and following on from a creditable draw with Hull FC might suggest that they have got over their early season woes and are ready to try to drag themselves back into contention. They must be fancied to beat a Widnes side which has been nilled at home by Castleford and soundly beaten by all of Wakefield, Salford and Hull.
Dennis Betts’ side are still without Patrick Ah Van, Tom Gilmore, Eamonn O’Carroll, Lloyd White, Hep Cahill, MacGraff Leuleuai and Manese Manuokofoa but Greg Burke returns. Much will depend on Alex Gerrard, Chris Houston and company up front with Rhys Hanbury, Stefan Marsh and Corey Thompson providing the threat from the backs.
Warrington dealt Widnes a blow before the season started when they plucked England stand-off Kevin Brown from their clutches but as it turned out he misses out with injury once more, something of a theme during his days with the Wolves’ Cheshire rivals. Ryan Atkins scored twice for Tony Smith’s side in the win over Leeds and has provided some much needed threat from the centre position since his return from injury, while Declan Patton should continue to fill the void left by Brown alongside Kurt Gidley in the halves. In the pack Bennie Westwood serves the first of his four-match suspension for attempting to separate Liam Sutcliffe’s block from the rest of his person, and we may see Andre Savelio return in his place.
It’s hard to make a case for Widnes winning this one. Warrington have not had the best of seasons so far but they remain a quality outfit whose off-loading, swashbuckling style has just not come off for them to this point. Nobody has scored fewer tries than Smith’s outfit so far this term and that can mostly be attributed to the fact that they have made more errors (113) than anyone else in the competition. If Warrington start catching the ball then a Widnes defence which has leaked almost 30 points per game so far could find itself stretched beyond its limits.