With the Super 8s about to start, Nathan Okell runs the rule over Saints' rivals...

WITH the business end of the season fast approaching, there remains only seven games before the play-off semi-finals.

With only 8 points separating 8th place from the play-off spots in 4th, who poses the biggest threat to Saints in quest for another Old Trafford appearance?

Wigan Warriors:

Old rivals Wigan would like nothing better than to spoil Saints’ parade, with the key players such as Sam Tomkins and Sean O’Loughlin looking to send Shaun Wane out on a high following his announcement to take up a post with Scottish Rugby Union.

Wigan are certainly the best placed side to trouble Super League’s runaway leaders, sitting in second place, however their form has been erratic of late, winning five and losing five of their last 10 league outings.

Saints can take heart from their previous two encounters with their old foe, with a 21-18 victory on Good Friday and a 14-6 away win two weeks ago and will be hoping to make it 3 from 3 in 2018 when they lock horns once again in three week’s time.

Castleford Tigers:

The Tigers have been dark horses this year, having tasted defeat in only three of their last 10 games and consistently sitting in and around 3rd place in the table following last season’s eye-catching exploits.

The Tigers have also proved to be a thorn in the side of the Saints in the 8s, with Luke Gale’s golden-point drop goal sending them to Old Trafford against Justin Holbrook’s men last September, condemning the Red Vee to yet another semi-final defeat.

The Yorkshire outfit have also been boosted by the mid-season signings of Quentin Laulu-Tongagae from Halifax and Peter Mata’utia from Leigh, solving their problematic full-back birth left by the acrimonious departure of 2017 Man of Steel candidate Zak Hardaker.

On their day, the Tigers can be problematic for any side but Saints have had their number this campaign, defeating them by an average of 40 points on three separate occasions.

They will be looking to extend this to four when they battle again in the final round of the 8s.

Warrington Wolves:

Another mouth-watering local derby looking forward is Saints visit to Warrington in the sixth game of the 8s – a ground where Saints have profited well from in recent encounters, winning seven of their last 10 games at the Halliwell Jones.

If the last time the two sides met is anything to go by, it will prove to be another epic, with Danny Richardson's 55-metre penalty sealing a 14-12 win after the hooter had sounded.

Warrington are in Challenge Cup Final action in the weeks prior to the fixture which could have an impact, however players such as Daryl Clark and Mike Cooper have hit form at the right time, making the Wolves a real threat.

Huddersfield Giants:

Leading the charge of those looking to break into the four is the Huddersfield Giants, who open their 8s against Saints at the Totally Wicked Stadium this Friday on the back of 9 wins from their last 10 league games.

The Simon Woolford-inspired turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable, claiming the scalps of Castleford, Catalans, Wigan and Leeds and lifting the Giants from languishing around the drop zone to Grand Final outsiders.

Jermaine McGilvary has re-discovered the form that made him an England regular, whilst Danny Brough has done a great job in leading his players around the field.

Saints will take confidence from their last meeting with the Giants, which they won 66-4, however recent form suggests Friday’s game will be a lot tighter and possibly closer than people expect following last weekend’s unexpected exit from the Challenge Cup.

Hull FC: 

Hull FC are a team desperately lacking in form as the 8s begin, with Lee Radford already admitting that he doesn’t believe his side will make the top four.

The Airlie Birds' injury-ravaged campaign means key men Albert Kelly and Jake Connor are still side-lines, but the influential Jamie Shaul, Marc Sneyd, Danny Houghton and Scott Taylor have all returned in recent weeks.

Hull are a side who can pick themselves up for a big game, looking back at the narrow 25-22 epic defeat by the hands of Saints in the Challenge Cup quarter finals in June, however a nose-dive in form consisting of 4 back-to-back defeats makes Saints favourites looking forward to the encounter in round 5.

Wakefield Trinity:

Wakefield are another side who have experienced a mixed bag of form. Winning runs have been followed by even longer losing streaks, which have decimated Trinity’s campaign to date.

Trinity did run the Saints close in their most recent clash towards the end of June, which Saints edged 34-30, however Wakefield’s for has tailed off since then.

With players such as Jacob Miller and Tom Johnstone playing behind a powerful pack including David Fifita and Pauli Pauli, Wakefield certainly have the quality to trouble saints at Belle Vue in round 2, but their confidence needs to return with a win against Hull FC this weekend.

Catalans Dragons:

Catalans are a team many will be hoping to avoid for the foreseeable future if Sunday’s game is anything to go by. Saints put in their worst performance of the season, and possibly worst under the Holbrook tenure so far, falling to a 35-16 defeat in the Challenge Cup semi-final.

It marked a high point in what has proved to be a complete U-turn in form for the French club, who now have an outside chance of snatching a play off place, owing to their 7 wins from their last 12 Super League games.

As Sunday proved, Catalans are not to be underestimated, especially in their home fortress of the Stade Gilbert Brutus, to which the Saints will travel to in round 4.