By WILL DENNIS
THE long-awaited return of Super League is nearly upon us and it kicks-off in some serious style with the two most decorated clubs in the competition’s history going into battle on the opening weekend.
St Helens and Leeds Rhinos have produced some of the most titanic clashes in Super League’s history and the match next Thursday is certainly the most mouth-watering of the weekend, given the unpredictability of each side’s season.
For Kieron Cunningham’s Saints it has been a frustrating pre-season. Re-signing Matty Smith from Wigan looked like a good piece of business with halfback Johnny Lomax’s recent injury record always a cause for concern.
However, Smith’s season has been put into serious doubt after undergoing leg surgery following a dangerous tackle from Widnes prop Manase Manuokafoa, who now faces a three-match ban for the incident. Saints went on to win the pre-season game 16-0 but last their second friendly 22-6 to Castleford with Cunningham admitting that serious errors cost them dear.
For Leeds, however, three wins out of four is cause for encouragement for Rhinos fans who last season were left bemused by an appalling attempt at defending their treble. Finishing a remarkable ninth, the worst-ever defence of a Super League title is now a distant memory for Leeds who are keen to start this campaign on the right foot.
Both sides overcame each other last season with Leeds claiming the first encounter 30-18 at Headingley, while St Helens squeezed past Rhinos 38-34 in the return fixture.
However, as it is the opening weekend it is a very difficult match to call with no one knowing quite what to expect from a Leeds side that surprised everyone last season. As for St. Helens they will surely be looking to build on what was another frustratingly trophy-less season for Cunningham at his boyhood club.
Betting and Prediction
Saints have been made favourites with a -6 handicap at 10/11 (skybet) given their home advantage. With St. Helens at 4/7 for the win outright, Leeds are 6/4 without the handicap.
Because it is opening weekend it is a very tough one to call but given the uncertainty about which Leeds will turn up St Helens look the safest option to get their season started in style against one of their biggest rivals.