Castleford vs St Helens: Super League head to heads
Watch Castleford vs St Helens live on Sky Sports Arena from 7pm on Friday
By Tom Mordey
Last Updated: 22/03/19 7:09pm
We look at three key head to heads before Castleford Tigers host St Helens in the Super League this Friday, live on Sky Sports Arena.
What a game in store. The league leaders St Helens travel to Castleford, with the Tigers in third spot, having lost just once all season.
Here's three head to heads that might decide it.
Peter Mata'utia v Lachlan Coote
Full-back was a problem position for Castleford last season. Zak Hardaker's dismissal left the Tigers short before the campaign began. But Daryl Powell finally plugged that hole with the arrival of Peter Mata'utia in July. He left cash-strapped Leigh to feature for the Tigers for the rest of the year.
And after a full pre-season, Mata'utia is now firmly established at the back. He's started all six games. And his figures are good. One try so far - in the win over London, but five try assists, with only Paul McShane posting more.
Mata'utia is the club's third highest metre maker and the number one back, with 709m from his 100 carries, at 7.09m on average per drive.
And the full back is level with Greg Eden for tackle busts so far in 2019 with 25. It's a relief for Daryl Powell to have a settled figure dictating things from the back this campaign.
Ben Barba's name is quickly melting into St Helens history. And that's down to the sensational form of his replacement, Lachlan Coote.
The off-season arrival doesn't possess the flare Barba did, but he brings an all-round game and organisational ability that's adding plenty more to St Helens.
Justin Holbrook was full of praise for Coote after the win over Huddersfield, especially the developing combination with the two half backs, Jonny Lomax and Theo Fages.
Coote provided a cracking assist for Regan Grace, one of six so far this season. No Saints player has more. Coote's kicking game is also proving essential for Holbrook - 27 attacking kicks so far in 2019. Again, no one has more. His signing looks a great piece of business so far.
Michael Shenton v Mark Percival
How crucial is Michael Shenton to Castleford's chances this season? The captain is Mr Reliable and signed a new two-year deal at the start of this month. He turns 33 in July, but Shenton is still one of Castleford's key men.
His partnership with Greg Eden, so prolific in 2017, is coming up trumps again. The winger is Super League's top scorer with seven, while Shenton has five try assists for the Tigers, just one behind club leader Paul McShane. The centre is a strong carrier - nearly 500 metres from his 62 carries, at an average of 7.69m per drive.
And Shenton has crossed twice himself. Playing St Helens is always a big occasion for Shenton. It's his former club, the only one he's played for besides the Tigers. Will he send them another reminder of what they're missing?
Mark Percival is a key cog in the St Helens attack. The centre is so dangerous with ball-in-hand. He's got three tries so far this season, just two behind top scorer Grace.
Percival is a regular at the top of the charts for the Saints. He managed 20 last year, only behind Ben Barba. And in 2017, he was the club's top scorer with 17.
Percival excels at punching holes in defences. He's made the most tackle busts for the Saints with 29, although only two of those have then been clean breaks. Percival has 628 metres from his 88 carries, at an average of 7.14m a drive.
He couldn't quite convince Wayne Bennett he's the best option for England at centre, featuring just once in the series win over New Zealand. But Percival will have eyes on a Great Britain tour at the end of the season.
Liam Watts v Alex Walmsley
Liam Watts is a man in form. Daryl Powell singled the front rower out for special praise, labelling him as the season's standout player so far. The coach picked out his leadership skills, while also describing Watts as tough and durable.
He's the club's top metre maker, 751m from his 94 carries. That's with an average gain of nearly 8m per drive as well. Watts is an exceptional offloader as well, 15 so far in 2019, five more than any other teammate. Only Trent Merrin has more in the competition and he's played a game more.
It's not just carrying where Watts has impressed. He's made 210 tackles so far, more than any other teammate. No wonder Powell has been singing his praises. But it's a big test on Friday night.
Isn't it great to see Alex Walmsley smashing his way through Super League defenders again? Perhaps not for those tasked with stopping him, but no one can begrudge the way he's recovered from last year's serious injury. And with Luke Thompson, the pair are forming one of the competition's most explosive front rows. Walmsley has started all six games so far.
And there's no surprise to see him notching up the metres. 628m so far from his 82 carries - at an average gain of 7.66m per drive. Thompson is only 12 metres further back. That's some serious go-forward for Justin Holbrook.
Walmsley also has a good offload on him, five so far and only Louie McCarthy Scarsbrook has more. He came up with two crucial scores against Leeds and looks a certain Great Britain tourer as long as he stays fit.
Castleford 19-man squad: James Clare, Chris Clarkson, Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Tuoyo Egodo, Alex Foster, Oliver Holmes, Nathan Massey, Peter Mata'utia, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Adam Milner, Greg Minikin, Junior Moors, Jordan Rankin, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Michael Shenton, Jake Trueman, Liam Watts.
St Helens 19-man squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Joseph Paulo, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth, Aaron Smith, Lachlan Coote.