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Old school dunes flogging gets Saints tuned-in for top-four tilt
SAINTS’ failure to get to Wembley was ‘rewarded’ with a trip to the beach on Friday with an old school training session on the sand of Formby and Ainsdale.
The gruelling two-hour session up the steep dunes and in the Irish Sea took the place of the game day experience and was part of the strategy to tune up the team ahead of the business end of the league campaign.
With just two games to go in the regular campaign, Saints need two points to make sure of a top-four finish needed to avoid being thrust straight into the deep end of knockout football.
They will expect to take care of that on Friday, 8pm, despite welcoming a London side that has hit a little bit of form, albeit belatedly in the season, since Tony Rae assumed the coaching reins.
It is not hard to pin-point where the Broncos’ threat comes from, with experienced dual code international Craig Gower pulling the strings alongside half back partner Luke Dorn.
Saints boss Mike Rush said: “London have hit form – they had a good win at Cas and against Warrington – which was a contest until the Wolves started to think about other things.
“They are scoring a lot of tries off kicks and Gower and Dorn are both playing well. We have to limit the space they have got – if you do that then it is harder for them to play.
“Although they have some good players across the board we are home and just have to concentrate on ourselves, making sure we do our things right and squeezing them as much as we can.”
Saints go into the penultimate clash of the league programme in good health, although Michael Shenton remains sidelined with an ankle injury, with a similar injury ruling out Chris Flannery.
Ade Gardner is expected to play at the weekend – although whether that was for the first team or the under 20s had yet to be decided.
Rush explained: “It is a week too early for Shenny as I am not big on risking people at this stage of the season. Everybody else apart from Flannery is as good as gold.
“We have to get two points on Friday and that will make sure we are going to finish in the top four.
“ Then we will roll on to the Wigan game and see what happens.
“It is good that we have two testing games to finish as we probably want to be teeing players up for knockout football.
“We need to make sure we keep winning.
“The players here have a big game mentality – knowing how important it is to win play-off games and how to do just that.
“There is not just us in that boat – Leeds have got that, Wigan have been to the Grand Final in recent years and Warrington have just won the Challenge Cup so they know how to play knockout football.
“From a rugby league point of view this year is probably the closest the play-offs has been.
“Nobody wants to Catalan away if they can get all their troops fit again.”
After the London game Saints travel to Wigan on September 7 - but bizarrely should the Warriors win that clash, it could potentially mean the derby rivals playing each other three times in the space of four weeks.
With the old derby rivals having already met at the additional Magic fixture and Challenge Cup, that could take this season’s meetings to six.
The way the eight team play-off system works means that the four finishing in the top four have a second bite of the cherry should they lose their opener.
In that, first plays fourth, second entertains third with the winners going through to the semi-final.
In the second week the top-four losers then have home advantage against the victors of the 5 v 8 and 6 v 7 sudden death clashes with a place away to the first week victors at stake.
Last season Saints ended up having to beat Wigan twice - home and away - to get through to Old Trafford.
It is not an ideal format - in a system that does little to reward the clubs finishing higher up the league table and in some people’s eyes producing a pointless layer of opening round fixtures.
Rush said: “I still find it a strange format that you could end up playing the same team twice to get to the final – that is the same for all the teams, but that is one for other people to look at.
“It is hard – the Australians have top eight and are now into their third way of trying to find a workable format.”