19 Nov 2020

Semi-final preview: Saints v Dragons

Head coach Kristian Woolf is hopeful that St Helens' three-week break will benefit his side when it comes to tackling a physical Catalans Dragons outfit in Friday's semi-final.

Saints haven't played since the end of the October because of the revamped play-off schedule, and Woolf believes it could make all the difference as he attempts to guide the club back to the Grand Final.

"It's been good to have a couple of weeks off because of how hectic the season has been," he said.

"There have been a lot of short turnarounds and lots of add-ons with the Covid-19 testing.

"Having time off has allowed us to just focus on ourselves and freshen up ahead of this game.

"They were really physical last Friday, especially in the opening 15 minutes, and it seemed to catch Leeds by surprise.

"Both of the games last week had that high intensity and were high energy games for long periods - that's what finals rugby is all about.

"This is the kind of rugby we can thrive in. It's back and forth and I just cannot wait for our blokes to get out there and I know our players are chomping at the bit."

Saints' record in big games this year isn't is as strong as you would expect.

They were knocked out of the Challenge Cup at the quarter-final stage by Warrington Wolves and lost what turned out to be the League Leaders' Shield decider to Wigan Warriors.

However, Woolf is confident that his team have learnt the lessons from those defeats.

"We learnt plenty in the loss to Warrington. It was a game we played well in for 60-70 minutes but dropped off for a 10-15 minute period and gave up a few tries; I don't think we'll make those kind of mistakes again," Woolf outlined.

"Despite those losses, I do think that throughout the year we've come up with our best performances in the bigger games, and I'm hopeful we'll do the same on Friday night."

Dragons will be without the suspended Michael McIlorum and Joel Tomkins for the game at the Totally Wicked Stadium.  

The pair were given six and eight-match bans respectively by the RFL's operational rules tribunal earlier this week for foul play in the victory over Rhinos, and their absence represents a serious blow to Dragons' hopes of making a maiden Grand Final.

But head coach Steve McNamara remains confident that his side can still reach November 27's showpiece event.

"We are really clear at what we want to do and how we'll go about that," he explained. 

"The suspensions are a slight distraction but it is what it is.

"For us, it's all about what we can do this week. We know we'll have to play well and we will play well, make no mistake about that. 

"If that's good enough to get to the final, I'm sure everyone in Perpignan will celebrate the fact that we've got there."

Reaching the Grand Final would be a huge reward for Dragons' enigmatic owner, Bernard Guasch.

Guasch has paid for private jets - costing up to £50,000 per game - so Dragons can play their matches in England. 

And full-back Sam Tomkins is hoping that the players can make all his contributions worth it with a win on Friday. 

"From a players' point of view, we understand the situation that Bernard is in and the extent he's gone to help us finish the season," Tomkins said.

"I've said it before, but we are very lucky to have an owner like that.

"It just wouldn't be possible at a lot of clubs. 

"His passion for the club is absolutely unbelievable. He'll tell us what he thinks when we lose, but he's also the first person to congratulate us if we win.

"He's kept this club going for many years, and he's not just a person to chuck some money at things for one year, so he certainly deserves some success."

Saints welcome Alex Walmsley back from suspension, and Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux and James Graham could all play their last ever game at the Totally Wicked Stadium. 

Alrix Da Costa and back rower Benjamin Jullien are recalled by Dragons in the place of McIlorum and Tomkins. 

St Helens: Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Josh Simm, Lewis Dodd, James Graham.

Catalans Dragons: David Mead, Samisoni Langi, Israel Folau, Fouad Yaha, James Maloney, Josh Drinkwater, Rémi Casty, Sam Moa, Matt Whitley, Benjamin Garcia, Julian Bousquet, Mickael Simon, Tom Davies, Benjamin Jullien, Alrix Da Costa, Mickael Goudemand, Paul Seguier, Jason Baitieri, Arthur Mourgue, Sam Kasiano, Sam Tomkins.

Referee: L.Moore