YATES’ VERDICT: The real business is about to begin

Saints coach Keiron Cunningham

Saints coach Keiron Cunningham

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Saints head coach Keiron Cunningham must be close to tearing his hair out in sheer frustration and the same goes for his backroom staff.

It’s bad enough losing full-back Jonny Lomax in the warm-up but then the half-time withdrawal of influential French-born half-back Theo Fages with a knee injury on the return to his homeland added to their tale of woe.

Hardly the kind of problems they needed against the high-flying Catalans Dragons - beaten only twice in front of their own fans this season - and desperate to claim top spot ahead of the Super 8s.

Cunningham isn’t the kind of boss to use injuries as an excuse - every club has their fair share in any Super League season - but their timing on Saturday could not have been more cruel and overshadowed the delight at seeing Mark Percival back in action after a three-match absence.

Saints were also without the services of Aussie scrum half Luke Walsh for a second successive match and it goes without saying his experienced and on-field guidance was sorely missed.

Yet, having said that, the final 33-16 score line was a little harsh on a Saints’ side which for the best part of 52 minutes still had a foothold in the game.

But in humid and overcast conditions the energy seemed to sap[ from their body and from being only three points adrift early in the second half they finished up a well beaten side.

At the same time league defeat number nine in a season of fluctuating form more or less spells the death knell to their hopes of achieving a top four place before the competition splits.

Mathematically, it is still possible for fifth-placed Saints, currently on 18 points, to climb the table but highly unlikely that they will bridge the gap between themselves, Warrington Wolves (24 points), Wigan Warriors (26) Catalans Dragons (26) and Hull FC (28).

However, a couple of wins from their last five fixtures against Hull KR (h), Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (a), Widnes Vikings (h), Huddersfield Giants (a) and Wigan Warriors (a) should guarantee fifth place.

Then the real business begins!