RUGBY LEAGUE analyst Kaine Greenwood (@KaineG23) highlights the value for Thursday night's televised Super League clash from Leeds.
Leeds Rhinos v St. Helens | Thursday 20:00 | Sky Sports
All the talk in the last few days have been about whether St. Helens would manage to get their marquee-signing Ben Barba into the squad for this clash by overturning a 12-game ban sanctioned by the NRL.
That appeal, much like Brian McDermott’s to his Leeds side before a 23-12 defeat to local rivals Castleford last time out, failed to provide a positive result and he will sit out the remainder of his ban.
The lack of a result for Saints was perhaps expected but they way in which the Rhinos fell to Castleford after a big build-up was less so.
It wasn't that McDermott’s men were blown away by the Tigers like the earlier meeting in the season but more that the game was something of a damp squib from the perspective of a side that were “going into battle” in search of the League Leaders’ Shield.
It just didn't happen for the hosts and the tone of approach to this game appears to have changed with Brian McDermott having stated the Leaders’ silverware is now out of reach with an eight-point gap to the top spot and star forward Adam Cuthbertson admitting that they are playing for pride this week – as well protecting their berth in the first four.
Saints marching on
Conversely, Justin Holbrook’s group come into Round 20 attacking the top four after a dramatic last-second drop-goal effort from Matty Smith against Salford reeled in a 24-8 scoreline on 73 minutes to grab the win (25-24) on the hooter.
That showed that there is still something of a spirit in the side though they also travel to Headingley knowing that defeat – with a current five-point margin to make up on the Rhinos – would theoretically end their season’s hopes just a week later.
Absentees are a theme for this round-opener and Saints’ belief will be boosted with news that Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Brett Ferres are all out of the Leeds squad.
Jordan Lilley has returned to the Rhinos from his loan at Championship side Bradford to plug the gap left by captain Danny McGuire after an indiscretion with the referee last week means he serves a ban and in what will be just his second appearance of 2017 he could find the intensity a stretch.
If I had to favour a winner here I would go with the visitors (5/4 SkyBet) but it has been such a Jekyll and Hyde season in which they have beaten each of the current top four but also slipped to three of the bottom quartet that their 9-1-9 standing really does tell a story.
The loss of top-scorer Mark Percival, who also serves one-match ban, removes perhaps the best centre of the season so far from the thoughts of the Rhinos’ defensive line.
The betting angles
Therefore, we focus in on Regan Grace (13/8 Betfred). He has been the real emerging positive of the campaign for the Red Vee – an ever-present since his try-scoring debut against arch-enemy Wigan in Round 9 – and his seven-try haul, the last of which an incredible spinning effort I only experience when crashing out on Mario Kart, is a concern for the likes of Briscoe and Watkins.
Ryan Morgan (15/8 Betfred), the experienced right centre, returns for St. Helens meaning that they will have significant threat on both sides of the field – Morgan's eight league four-pointers second only to the absent Percival.
The thoughts here are that while it's easy to see the visitors triumphing for the second-straight week in LS6 the price isn't quite enough to push aside the doubts over consistency.
However, should one of the Saints’ edge players on either side manage to slip through the line and dot down then we will be in a profitable position to level stakes.
Further to this, with the home side having conceded to the left wing of the opposition in the last four matches it leads to greater confidence in the impact 20-year-old Welsh international Grace could have and means I'm also happy to support the 6/1 on a double effort.