GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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St Helens coach Daniel Anderson insists his table-topping side still have the firepower to shoot down their rivals for the engage Super League crown despite the cruel loss of both their leading tryscorer and goalkicking captain.
Saints go into the final game of the regular season against Bradford at Knowsley Road without 28-try winger Darren Albert and points machine Sean Long, whose seasons were ended by fractured cheekbones sustained in last week?s brutal clash with Wigan.
They must also cope without Great Britain second rower Lee Gilmour, who was badly concussed last Friday against Wigan, as well as skipper Paul Sculthorpe, out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.
The only good news for Saints is the return from injury of New Zealand Test loose forward Vinnie Anderson and namesake Daniel believes there are enough good players around him to enable them to finish the job.
The coach points to in-form hooker Keiron Cunningham, who will lead the side in the absence of both Sculthorpe and Long, and Australian Test centre Jamie Lyon, whose brilliant creative play has been such a key role in bringing the league leaders? trophy to Knowsley Road.
?Let?s not kid ourselves, we?ve lost some good players,? he said. ?But we?ve still got some players in wonderful form. Keiron Cunningham is one, Jamie Lyon been great, you see Paul Wellens continually and the emergence of James Roby and James Graham continues to astound me as coach.
?We still have players who are very committed and, if we work as a unit, we give ourselves the best opportunity.
?The game is all about adjustment, life is sometimes like a jigsaw puzzle. I?m resilient to keep going forward and make minor adjustments to our attack.?
The injuries have given fringe players Ian Hardman, Keith Mason and Scott Moore the opportunity to push for a Grand Final spot while at the same time removing the temptation for Anderson to rest players for a match they do not need to win.
St Helens, who will be presented with the league leaders? trophy after the match, have a week off to prepare for their qualifying semi-final with Leeds on September 30 and, if they win that match, they will have another free weekend ahead of the October 15 decider at Old Trafford.
?It?s a difficult situation,? admitted Anderson. ?You can?t just sit boys out because it?s three weeks until the next game.
?We have a lot of boys who want to keep the continuity of the way they?re playing because they enjoy it and they like the way it?s going.
?I still think it?s in our hands. We?ve got two home games minimum and we like playing at home. Getting top spot is a huge bonus now but I think I?d give up first if I could have some of those boys back.?
Bradford coach Brian Noble is also impressed by the quality running right through the Saints squad, having included seven of them in his training squad for the Gillette Tri-Nations Series.
But it is one player not named in Noble?s original 40-strong squad that could pose the biggest threat. Giant prop Paul Anderson has enjoyed a new lease of life since his move from Bradford and has arguably been the form front rower in Super League X.
?It still looks a very good squad,? admitted Noble. ?Long, Albert and Sculthorpe are big players for them but they have been without them before and beaten some very good sides.
?They will have Vinnie Anderson back and that will offset the loss of Gilly and the players who will have to step up, players such as Moore, if he plays, Hardman, Roby and Mason are all quality players who know the system and have done it before.
?Talau and Lyon are going great for them in the centre with Gardner playing well and any side that has Keiron Cunningham in its ranks is going to take some holding. We know all about Paul Anderson and what he can do and together with Fozzard and Keiron they make up a terrific front row.?
The Bulls will give a second appearance to Great Britain forward Adrian Morley, who made a low-key debut in last Sunday?s 52-34 win over Huddersfield.
St Helens v Bradford, Knowsley Road, Saturday September 17
St Helens 18-man squad: Wellens, Hardman, Lyon, Talau, Gardner, Hooper, Moore, Fozzard, Cunningham, P. Anderson, Graham, Bennett, Roby, V. Anderson, Higham, Fa?asavalu, Mason, Wilkin.
Bradford 18-man squad: Vainikolo, Deacon, Morley, Fielden, I. Harris, Johnson, Lynch, B. Harris, Parker, L. Pryce, Peacock, Paul, Vagana, Langley, Hape, Meyers, Radford, Henderson.
Referee: A Klein