14th June 2018, 11:47 | super_league

Saints braced for Headingley battle

Saints braced for Headingley battle

Leeds are without key players but have a strong recent record against St Helens

St Helens centre Mark Percival insists the Betfred Super League leaders will not underestimate the challenge posed by injury-hit Leeds Rhinos at Headingley on Friday night.

The defending champions have nine regulars missing through injury, including scrum-half Richie Myler who loses his ever-present record after being concussed in the home loss to Huddersfield Giants.

That was a fourth straight league defeat and it leaves Leeds struggling to make the top four.

Saints have lost only twice this season but one of the defeats was at home to Leeds, who also beat them twice at Headingley in 2017, each time by a two-point margin, a fact not lost on Percival.

“We’ve never had that much success against Leeds,” said the England international.

“We always seem to come up short or just don’t play like we do every week. We were really up for the game against them earlier in the year but we didn’t really turn up.

“Every time you go up against them, you know what they’re capable of.

“They’ve got really good players like Ryan Hall, Tom Briscoe and Stevie Ward and I feel, if you can control their individuals, you’ll go well against Leeds but it’s always a tough game. They’re the champions for a reason.”

Leeds’ England winger Ryan Hall says the Rhinos are used to coping with adversity, pointing to the way they bounced back from their dreadful season in 2016 to regain their crown.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Hall of the visit of the in-form table-toppers. “It’s quite obvious that we’ve got a massive injury list at the moment and that is probably contributing to the losses that we’ve had.

“But if you put those injuries to one side, I don’t think we’ve played well enough to get the wins.

“We’ve a lot of work to do but we’ve been in this sort of situation before and the way out of it is through hard work. We know that.”

In Friday’s other game, Huddersfield will be out to make amends for their disappointing recent Challenge Cup exit at the hands of Catalans Dragons when the French club visit the John Smith’s Stadium for a game that could be crucial in the battle to avoid a place in the bottom four. Both teams are in danger in the bottom half of the table.

Giants chairman Ken Davy is allowing free admission to mark the first home league game under new coach Simon Woolford, and winger Jermaine McGillvary says it is a big opportunity to boost the club’s support.

“Ken is letting everyone in for free so it’s a big opportunity to try and reach out to the town,” said the home-grown England international.

“We’re not great at getting people through the gates but I reckon we’ll get close to 10,000 and the challenge will be to keep most of them.

“And we do owe Catalan one. It’s a massive game, a win would keep them at a distance in the chase for a top eight.

“I reckon the middle eights this year will be the toughest there’s been and I don’t want to be a part of that.”