Third and fourth go head to head in Super League on Friday as Warrington face Castleford, with both sides aiming to keep in touch with leaders St Helens.
Warrington Wolves vs Castleford Tigers
June 8, 2018, 7:30pm
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Which way will this one go? Here are three key battles that might decide it:
Stefan Ratchford v Greg Eden
So often Mr Versatile, Steve Price has found a regular home for Stefan Ratchford. He’s played every single Super League game at full-back this season for the Wolves.
And the side are reaping the rewards. In years gone by, Ratchford has not only featured in the No 1 jersey, but also at centre and at half-back. But he’s had the chance to nail a permanent position in 2018. Five tries and 12 try assists have followed in the league.
That’s four more assists than any of his team-mates. Ratchford has also impressed with his kick return, notching up nearly 2000 metres at an average of 7.93m a carry. A clever player, with excellent all-round skills, Ratchford is an important weapon in attack for Price, acting almost as a third half-back. Will Wayne Bennett be taking note?
Welcome back Greg Eden. How the Tigers have missed their flying back. Super League’s top try scorer in 2017 has endured a miserable 2018 so far, with a hamstring injury limiting him to just three appearances before the weekend’s win over Hull KR.
But Eden returned against the Robins for his 100th Super League appearance and returned with a try. He also played at full-back, his favoured position despite featuring on the wing for most of his brilliant campaign last year. But Eden started at full-back in the Grand Final defeat to Leeds and it’s been a problem position for Daryl Powell this season. Have they found a solution through their top marksman?
Kevin Brown v Jake Trueman
There’s good competition for places in the half-backs at Warrington this season. Big name signing Tyrone Roberts is coming to the fore alongside Kevin Brown, with Dec Patton and Harvey Livett also both capable of playing there. But the experience of Brown is really shining through.
Livett spoke recently about the influence of the veteran half-back on the training ground. And Brown’s form is much improved this season too. He’s got eight try assists so far in Super League, as well as three tries of his own. Brown also crossed in the Challenge Cup win over Wigan at the weekend.
Brown shares the positional kicking responsibilities with Roberts, both putting in 76 attacking kicks this season in the league, giving Warrington a variety of options. Will the pair fire the Wolves to Super League glory?
Problems are mounting for Castleford at half-back. They’re already without Luke Gale, Ben Roberts injured his hamstring in the defeat to St Helens and now Jamie Ellis has hurt his back.
But it opens the door for Jake Trueman to make his mark. One of the competition’s brightest prospects, Trueman hasn’t quite nailed down a permanent slot for the Tigers. He’s featured off the interchange bench, at full-back and also in the halves in 2018. But Trueman has started the last three games in his preferred slot – half-back.
He turned in a brilliant display there against Leeds at Magic Weekend and scored his first try of the season against St Helens the week after. Will the injury problems turn into a positive for one of Castleford’s young guns?
Harvey Livett v Mike McMeeken
What a breakthrough season it’s been for Harvey Livett. He made his debut in 2017, offering the side a decent utility option. Having featured mainly off the bench, but also at centre and half-back in 2018, Livett has now nailed down a place in the second row. Ben Currie’s injury opened a slot in the side and Livett has taken it.
He’s actually Warrington’s joint-top league try scorer this season, going over eight times, the same as Tom Lineham. That includes a hat-trick against Leeds last month. Livett has a strong all-round game, he can tackle (151 hits so far), but is also capable of big metres, averaging 8.08m per drive with six clean breaks for good measure.
He signed a new two-year contract extension in May despite interest from NRL clubs. On the evidence so far, Livett could be a real superstar for the future.
There have been a few injuries for Castleford this season, but Mike McMeeken has been ever-present in either the back row, or from the interchange bench.
The forward is, of course, an England international following the World Cup, and a key cog in the Tigers’ pack following a sensational 2017.
McMeeken is an all-rounder in terms of skills. He’s the club’s highest metre maker, with 1548m from his 218 carries and is second in terms of most tackles with 462, behind only Paul McShane. McMeeken also has three tries, showing his threat with ball-in-hand, also producing 30 tackle busts and 18 offloads, both the best in terms of Castleford players this season.
If the Tigers are to maintain their top four position, Powell needs McMeeken fully fit and firing for the rest of the season.