It’s been six weeks since St Helens did a job on Castleford in the Super 8s and – not only did Justin Holbrook’s side do a job on Castleford – they became the first team in 13 months to topple the Tigers at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
And now, Saints find themselves in need of repeat performance if they are to make their 11th Super League Grand Final appearance and their first since 2014.
Standing in their way is a Castleford side who have dominated the Super League in 2017 racking up an unbelievable 50 points following the conclusion of the Super 8s. However, the Tigers, who have been on an upward trajectory since the arrival of Daryl Powell in 2013, are yet to grace the Old Trafford turf.
A victory for Castleford would see them become just the seventh side to reach a Super League Grand Final – Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls, Warrington Wolves and Hull FC – all going before them.
Thursday night’s game is very much a case of the new kids on the block trying to overcome the established elite as the Tigers go in search of their maiden Grand Final appearance at the expense of the most experienced Grand Final team since its inception in 1998.
Castleford: Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Alex Foster, Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker, Andy Lynch, Nathan Massey, Mike McMeeken, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Adam Milner, Greg Minikin, Junior Moors, Joel Monaghan, Ben Roberts, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Michael Shenton, Gadwin Springer, Jake Webster.
St Helens: Kyle Amor, Ben Barba, Luke Douglas, Theo Fages, Regan Grace, Morgan Knowles, Jonny Lomax. Tommy Makinson. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Dominique Peyroux, Danny Richardson, James Roby, Matty Smith, Zeb Ta’ai, Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley, Jon Wilkin.
The big story surrounding squad news is that Luke Gale is included in Daryl Powell’s 19-man squad after having his appendix removed just a fortnight ago. Despite being listed in the squad Gale may not be feature on Thursday with Paul McShane possibly stepping into the halves or Tom Holmes maintaining his place.
Several Tigers are expected to return to the starting line-up after being rested in last weekend’s defeat to Hull FC. Greg Eden, Greg Minikin, Michael Shenton, Grant Millington and Adam Milner are all set to return however youngsters Tuoyo Egodo and Jake Trueman – who have made an impact over the past two weeks – drop from the squad.
Alex Walmsley is available for selection after he was put on report for a collision with Salford’s Jordan Walne is last Thursday’s 4-30 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium – a win which sealed their spot in the top four. Fellow forward Kyle Amor is also named in the squad after missing out against the Red Devils.
Earlier in the Super 8s when St Helens overcame the Tigers it was a resilient, calculated and disciplined performance in a game which Castleford’s attacking opportunities were limited and Saints’ game management was excellent.
Matty Smith and Jon Wilkin were key players that night for the visitors and their experience guided Saints however with Smith out of favour with Justin Holbrook and Jon Wilkin out of favour with the Saints faithful it could be a different story as young duo Theo Fages and Danny Richardson look likely to pair up in the halves.
This youthful partnership could lack the ‘big game’ experience needed for a Super League Semi-Final. While not all of the Castleford players have featured in a big game scenario before you feel the confidence they have built this season is likely to override that inexperience.
A fast start will be pivotal in tonight’s game. As we’ve seen so many times this season Castleford can blow a side away inside ten minutes – look at their meeting with Saints in the Challenge cup earlier in the season. However, if Justin Holbrook’s men can find a ten-point advantage early on or even before half-time the Tigers nerves may come into play and we could see an upset.
Last Five Meetings
Castleford Tigers 12-36 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Super 8s – August 3rd 2017
Castleford Tigers 16-12 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Super League – June 4th 2017
Castleford Tigers 53-10 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Challenge Cup – May 13th 2017
St Helens 26-22 Castleford Tigers – Totally Wicked Stadium – Super League – April 17th 2017
St Helens 40-16 Castleford Tigers – Totally Wicked Stadium – Super League – September 8th 2016
Prediction: Castleford Tigers 26-8 St Helens.