Widnes Vikings v St Helens: Key battles in Super League clash
By Tom Mordey | Twitter: @TomMordey |
Last Updated: 21/04/17 8:18pm
After a busy Easter of Betfred Super League action, the action continues on Friday when bottom side Widnes host St Helens, live on Sky Sports 2 HD from 7.30pm.
The Vikings have won just one of their opening 10 league games and are on a three-game losing streak. They could do with a win at the Select Security Stadium but the same can be said for Saints, who are looking to build on Easter Monday's win over Super League leaders Castleford.
Here are three head-to-heads which could decide Friday's contest…
Rhys Hanbury v Tommy Makinson
Hanbury returns to the Widnes squad for this week's game having missed the defeat to Leeds - the second match he has missed this season and the Vikings were therefore missing one of their key attacking sources.
The full-back has three tries and two try assists so far this season but has not quite hit the standards set in previous campaigns.
Hanbury was crucial as Widnes reached the Super 8s in 2016, scoring 12 tries and providing 11 try assists. And he topped the metres chart last season, notching up 3413m at an average gain of 8.01m a drive.
But his numbers are well down on that effort in 2017 - just 686 metres so far at an average of 6.47m a run.
If Widnes are to pull away from the foot of the table, they need Hanbury back to his best.
Jonny Lomax's injury has meant a switch to full-back for Makinson and that move resulted in his first try of the season on Good Friday against Wigan.
Makinson has struggled for service so far in 2017; indeed we haven't seen any of the flying finishes we have become almost accustomed to. He has turned provider on three occasions though, but after an injury-hit 2016 Makinson will want to find the whitewash a bit more himself.
His attacking stats are otherwise impressive; already over 1000 metres from 135 carries at an average gain of 7.99m a run.
With Regan Grace impressing out wide as Makinson's deputy, the full-back will need to show what he's capable of to avoid a battle for his place when Lomax returns.
Charly Runciman v Mark Percival
Australian centre Runciman has impressed with ball in hand for the Vikings so far in 2017. He has crossed for three tries this season, including one in the narrow defeat to Warrington over the Easter period.
Runciman's figures for the campaign are good. He is second in the metres charts behind injured winger Tom Armstrong, making 798m from his 97 carries. And that's at a team high (of anyone over five carries) of 8.23 metres a drive with 17 tackle busts and six clean breaks.
Denis Betts relies on plenty of attacking thrust from his centre but work is needed in defence. He has missed a team-high 24 tackles and that is something the Vikings cannot afford given the amount of points they have been leaking.
Where would St Helens be without Percival this season? The centre has almost carried their attack single-handedly at times, joint-topping their try charts with five, level with Adam Swift.
He has also created the most tries in the St Helens side with six assists, more than both the starting half-backs put together.
And check out his ball-carrying numbers. Percival has made 1116 metres from his 137 carries, the best of any St Helens back and at an average gain of 8.15m a drive.
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Throw in his 16 offloads, 16 clean breaks, a whopping 11 more than any other team-mate and the third best in the competition, and 45 tackle busts - the fourth best in Super League - and you have a player at the very top of his game.
If Percival keeps this up, it's hard not to see him at the summit of Wayne Bennett's pecking order come World Cup time.
Joe Mellor v Theo Fages
How Widnes have missed Mellor. He was absent at the start of the Super League campaign with a knee injury and that bad news came after the departure of Kevin Brown to Warrington.
The half-back made his comeback off the bench against Wakefield, before starting in the narrow defeat against Warrington, though he did miss the game against Leeds on Easter Monday. But Mellor is in the squad for Friday and will be looking to make up for lost time.
He starred in 2016 alongside Brown in their run to the Super 8s, creating 16 tries for team-mates, and also scoring 11 tries himself.
Widnes need that sort of creative influence back in their side and if Mellor can get the Vikings ticking again, they have got a chance at climbing out of trouble.
Fages and Matty Smith are still forming their new half-back partnership for St Helens. They didn't have time to gel at the start of the season after Smith's broken leg and for Saints to climb the table, they need to find their groove quickly.
Fages is capable of the brilliant. Some of Super League's best pieces of skill have come from him; take the match-winning offload in France against Catalans or the stunning finish he produced in the draw against Huddersfield. Play like that puts bums on seats and St Helens need more of the same from their Frenchman.
Other figures are modest so far, three tries and four try assists this season, while he doesn't have much of an influence in the kicking game, putting in 17 attacking kick so far in 2017, less than Jon Wilkin.
But if you need a player to win you the game, Fages could well be the man.
Widnes Vikings: Patrick Ah Van, Chris Bridge, Sam Brooks, Jack Buchanan, Greg Burke, Jay Chapelhow, Chris Dean, Gil Dudson, Alex Gerrard, Tom Gilmore, Rhys Hanbury, Jordan Johnstone, Stefan Marsh, Joe Mellor, Tom Olbison, Charly Runciman, Corey Thompson, Danny Walker, Matt Whitley.
St Helens: Kyle Amor, Ricky Bailey, Theo Fages, Matty Fleming, Regan Grace, Morgan Knowles, Tommy Lee, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival, Dominique Peyroux, Greg Richards, Matty Smith, Adam Swift, Luke Thompson, Adam Walker, Alex Walmsley, Jon Wilkin, Zeb Taia.