The first semi-final of the Betfred Super League play-offs sees St Helens take on Catalans Dragons at the Stade Gilbert Brutus on Friday night (20:00) – and Saints legend Paul Sculthorpe has previewed the clash.
I wrote last week about the extra incentive the Saints players had to beat Warrington on Saturday. There was absolutely everything to play for in a do-or-die play-off eliminator, plus the added desire to send off two great servants in style.
I’m of course referring to both Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and skipper James Roby playing what was their final-ever home game for the club.
Thankfully, it wasn’t their last game in general, for that hard-fought 16-8 win over the Wolves means it’s onto the south of France for the semi-final – before hopefully one final hurrah at Old Trafford.
I often refer to handling pressure and getting through tough moments during RL games. That’s going to be put to the test big style on Friday night.
It’s certainty going to be a different environment than a soggy Totally Wicked Stadium – but one that will suit the champions.
One thing you can be certain of is a partisan French crowd who are desperate for Old Trafford. This will be another game all about managing emotions!
The great thing from a Saints perspective is that we’ve been here and done it many times before. Four back-to-back Grand Finals, not to mention a memorable World Club Challenge win over now three-time NRL Premier heroes Penrith Panthers, is testament that. Paul Wellens’ squad knows what’s required.
Catalans come into the game refreshed after a week off. That said, momentum can count for plenty at this time of year, and the Saints are certainly battle-hardened.
The Dragons possess threats all over the park, namely the rejuvenated Tom Johnstone, Wigan-bound Adam Keighran and a very physical pack led by Micky McIlorum and skipper Ben Garcia.
Sam Tomkins, who’s been in great form of late, is also looking to retire on the big stage after announcing 2023 will be his last season.
All that being said, we know the qualities Saints possess and as I always say, Saints beat anyone at their best – so in a way, it’s in our hands.
I expect an extremely physical tussle in Perpignan, which should result in a tight affair. I’m backing Saints to edge it by five points or more to set up an almighty Grand Final at Old Trafford next Saturday against fierce rivals Wigan, who I believe will see off Hull KR in the other semi.