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No fear for Saints ahead of Headingley clash with Leeds
SAINTS will bounce into Headingley on Friday night unfazed and undaunted at the prospect of tackling champions and perennial play-off specialists Leeds on their own midden.
Despite three players leaving the field on Saturday with bumps and bangs, coach Nathan Brown is confident of naming the same 17 that turned on the style against Hull KR.
And it is that stability and the winning habit that leads Brown and his team into believing that they can dispossess Rhinos of the trophy they have held for the past two years.
Brown said: “The belief in the team is quite good. Our last defeat was the Warrington game and in ten weeks we have lost one and won nine and beat some good sides along the way.
“You can’t fake confidence and belief; confidence comes from winning, belief is something you get when you have done it in the past.
“We have so many players here who have been in big games before and done well.”
Although Saints’ free-running backs were allowed to strut their stuff against Rovers, Brown anticipates a much tougher test on Friday night against a Rhinos side that is packed with power, pace, experience and guile.
Although Saints will take heart from the tremendous 30-22 win they chalked up on their last visit, that success was gained despite a poor start that saw the homesters rack up a three-score lead.
In these tight games that matter, Brown knows that there is no scope for repeating that this time around.
“We are not going to Headingley and fluff around and play average and win, we need 17 players to contribute positively for the team to do well,” he said.
“Sometimes it is not necessarily the score (in the opening 20 minutes) but if you start well you can maintain that momentum. “We need to hit the ground running on Friday.
“We are certainly going to go there with confidence, whether it on the back of going there last time and winning, or our last three months, or having a lot of players who have played in these games before and done well.
“Put it together and there is a good feeling in the squad and a lot of respect for Leeds – they are a terrific club – and I would like to think that they have respect for St Helens.
“Both sides like to play – we are not boring are we not just about, hit up, hit up and kick. Neither side is afraid to use the ball.”
There were some fears at the sight of Jonny Lomax, Alex Walmsley and Jon Wilkin all leaving the field at various stages on Saturday, and Brown said some of his team, without specifying which ones, may need a late check. Friday’s game is building up into what could be another Leeds v Saints classic – and Brown’s boys won’t be going there to make up the numbers.
And if the Saints pack can hold their own in the middle, it will hopefully lead to some ball getting out to the pacy outside backs who have provided some real attacking threat in recent weeks.
“The dynamics of the team has changed dramatically this year from the side for many years which had outside backs with a lot of size but maybe were not as quick.
“We now have some real, genuine speed there in Swifty and Tommy (Makinson) on the wings, JT in the centres – blokes who can go the distance. “Jonny at full back as got great speed too – a lot of the other guys we have had in the past have been wonderful footballers, but different dynamics,” Brown said.
But that new dynamic will face an acid test against the champions, with Brown keen to stress how important defence will be come kick off.
“Leeds have good players – you don’t fluke winning one Grand Final, let alone six in nine years.
“They have kept the nucleus of their team – Peacock, Sinfield, Burrow, McGuire, Leuluai – players in key positions who have played a lot together who know each other’s game.
“They also replace their squad well – with young guys like Hardaker, Jones-Bishop and Watkins coming in to replace guys that have moved on.
“The respect among both playing groups is very high.”
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