Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara is confident the arrival of Josh Drinkwater can help propel his team up the Betfred Super League table.
The former Leigh and London half-back played a pivotal role in the club’s 25-24 win over Hull in Perpignan last Saturday, just three days after stepping off a plane from Australia, which lifted them off bottom spot.
With more time to acclimatise and prepare for tonight’s trip to leaders St Helens, McNamara says the pressure will be ramped up on his new playmaker.
“Josh did a great job,” McNamara said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more from him.
“I suppose there was probably no pressure on him last week, getting off a plane and jumping straight in, whereas this week he’s had that extra bit of time to prepare.”
The signing of Drinkwater, as a straight replacement for the injured Luke Walsh, enabled McNamara to shift Tony Gigot back to his more accustomed full-back role and that provided him with an attacking spine the team have lacked all year.
Drinkwater’s half-back partner is former Leigh team-mate Samisoni Langi, who played primarly as a centre for the Centurions in 2017 but whose best position is stand-off, according to McNamara, who remembers him from his time as assistant coach of Sydney Roosters.
“Sami had a huge amount of potential as a ball-carrying six and then he suffered some injuries which curtailed his career,” McNamara said.
“But he’s a young man still. He’s done a good job so far and, with a genuine half-back alongside him, it provides a better opportunity for both him and the team to play well.”
The Dragons have lost centre David Mead to a leg injury, while St Helens look likely to be without full-back Ben Barba, Super League’s top tryscorer who hurt his neck in the big win at Salford last Thursday.
Barba, who was taken to hospital after being carried from the field on a stretcher, has been included in Saints’ 19-man squad, along with hooker and captain James Roby, who has missed the last three games with a rib injury, but coach Justin Holbrook has yet to make a final call on both men.
“If Ben recovers in time he will play,” Holbrook said. “If he isn’t right, he won’t and it’s the same situation with Robes. He is training fine but if he isn’t right I won’t play him.”
McNamara admits that, with or without Barba, his team face a huge task against a side that has lost just twice in 2018 and has scored 166 points in their last two matches.
“I wouldn’t want any player not to play due to injury,” McNamara said. “They’re a bigger threat with him in the their team but they showed against Hull FC when Ben didn’t play that they’re still more than capable of performing to a high standard.
“We’re going to have to play very, very well and we know that, but in round two we had a fantastic game against them in France. It was a right battle and hopefully we can have a right battle in St Helens.”
Saints have a chance to re-open a four-point lead at the top of Super League, but Holbrook insists he will not under-estimate the French club.
“There aren’t any easy games and I’m not worried about where they sit on the table,” he said.
“They got a good win over Hull FC at the weekend and I’m sure they will be thinking ‘if we can beat Saints, we can challenge for the Super 8s’. They aren’t a mile off that spot.”