The new Super League season begins on Thursday night and it does so with a bang as the two best sides from last term collide in a rollicking start to another exciting year of rugby league as St Helens host Catalans Dragons at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
These two sides battled it out for the League Leaders’ Shield last term which Catalans came out on top in but Saints got their revenge in the Grand Final and it is a repeat of that contest which fires season 27 into life.
Where to watch
The match will be shown live and in full on the Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix channels. The build-up to the new season begins at 7pm with the match getting underway at 7.45pm.
It isn’t always the case that we get to see what the credentials of the season title favourites are so early in a campaign but we might get that chance with St Helens here. They are the best side in the competition and could well be that by a distance with the additions they have made over the winter, but no side has ever won four straight Grand Finals and that is what the Red Vee will be looking to achieve this season. This match comes far too early in the campaign to have any bearing on that but it might show us their motivation.
The first thing to note with St Helens in this match is their defensive appetite. If a team has got too big for its boots or thinks it is better than it is then usually it is that which goes first. Saints’ success, particularly since Kristian Wolff has come in as coach, has centred round their defensive prowess so if that leaves them it might make for a more difficult season than they would want. If they have that solid defence they will be laying a marker down for the campaign ahead.
Last year was a brilliant season for the Catalans Dragons with them claiming their first ever League Leaders’ Shield. I guess they will have felt disappointment in the way the campaign ended, not least because they got so close in the Grand Final, but the positive from that is they have motivation to improve here and finally get their hands on the big prize. They won’t need telling that this is an immediate chance to lay a marker down and send out a huge message to their biggest title rivals.
There will be plenty of eyes on the Dragons in this match to see if last season was a flash in the pan or whether they mean business and are able to kick on again from last term. I think most judges are wary over the loss of James Maloney who was so pivotal to their success last season so one or two players have the chance to shine here. As ever with Catalans, their discipline is the key thing because they do have it in them to put points on the board even against this tight St Helens defence.
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St Helens will be without winger Regan Grace for this opening match of the season but they are able to call on the services of Sione Mata’utia and Mark Percival, who are both in the squad despite missing Alex Walmsley’s testimonial recently.
Catalans Dragons will give a debut to Mitchell Pearce as the replacement for James Maloney. Ben Garcia and Julian Bousquet missed their last warm up game but they have been included in the squad for the season opener.
Catalans Dragons have been trounced on their last four visits to the Totally Wicked Stadium but since those matches they have won an epic against St Helens at the Magic Weekend last season and they were edged out in the Grand Final so recent history suggests that the French outfit will be able to stay close here. While St Helens are the fancied runners this season, we do still need to see how Jack Welsby goes as the full-time full-back while the hole left by Kevin Naiqama needs to be filled.
Catalans Dragons need to overcome the absence of James Maloney but if anyone is going to do that then it will be Mitchell Pearce and when you look down the rest of this Dragons outfit it is no weaker than last season so it might be that such continuity serves them well in this encounter. I would imagine St Helens will win the match but I think we’re in for a very tense and tight tussle and even though this is a regular season game I wouldn’t be surprised if even this early in the season the intensity of it is like a Grand Final. I think a 10pt handicap margin is too big and I’ll take the Catalans on that line.
Back Catalans Dragons (+10) to beat St Helens for a 3/10 stake at 1.83 with Betfred