Super League 2014 preview: St Helens
Size and stability augur well for Saints
Tim Butcher discusses the season ahead with St Helens coach Nathan Brown…
Nathan Brown’s first year in charge at Langtree Park couldn’t have started much worse. A 40-4 home humbling by Huddersfield was eye-opening to say the least.
By the start of March, things had got a lot rosier. A 22-10 win at Warrington in round six augured well, but the next week James Roby suffered a bad ankle injury, Jonny Lomax injured a hamstring the week after that, and, when they returned much later in the season, Roby injured his other ankle. The final return of a nail-biting elimination at Leeds wasn’t too bad in the circumstances.
Saints seemed to have a different halfback combination every week last year, so it was little surprise that his first signing for 2014 was scrum-half Luke Walsh from Penrith Panthers.
“Luke Walsh is obviously a really important signing,” Brown says.
“He’s a good player who we are hoping can provide the glue. He’s got a very good kicking game, and he’s a very good talker, an organising kind of halfback. He can complement the players around him, which is the key.
“He’ll provide the type of player that this club has been missing since Sean Long.
“You go through sides over many years that have won competitions and they have always got the halves settled – Matty Smith and Blake Green; Sinfield and McGuire, Danny Brough and Luke Robinson last year. They are important players to have there and give stability; it’s the real key to challenge at the end of the year.”
In the light of the emergence last year of some quality young local backs in Mark Percival, Adam Swift and Josh Jones, the only threequarter brought in is Matt Dawson, who’ll still be a rookie after only four games with the Giants. Brown signed him signed him from Castleford when he was at Huddersfield: “Last year he only played two games and he played well, he was their best player against Warrington. Unfortunately for him, those outside backs at Huddersfield hardly ever get injured. He couldn’t get a game. We lost Franny (Meli to Salford) and Matty is a player with the potential to be a good Super League player. His training is going really well.”
The rest of the recruitment is all about size and power, with 20-stone plus, 6ft 5 inch Samoan Mose Masoe providing much of the size, though Wakefield’s Kyle Amor and the less tried and tested Richard Beaumont from Hull KR are hardly midgets.
“He’s quite a big lad isn’t he?” Brown says understatedly about Masoe.
“He’ll help provide a nice platform for Robes (James Roby) and Luke Walsh to play off. He’s a likeable character for the fans too. He’ll provide some personality for the game in general. He takes some pulling down that’s for sure, and he provides us with something we thought we were lacking a bit last year – he’ll help our squad improve. Other sides have already got bigger guys and it is something we needed. He’s got a skill set to help us improve.
“You try to get the right balance through your team. Last year we had a lot of good frontrowers but most of them had a low centre of gravity. We lacked a bit of size. The new props are all different but they all provide something.”
If it all sounds exciting for Saints fans, it should. Roby and Walsh running at back-tracking defences, unleashing some of the most exciting outside backs in the game will be pure box office, and should get the crowds flocking back to Langtree Park, though it may take a while to gel. Brown says: “You like to play well in your first game but it’ll take till round nine or so for the competition to settle. We’ll improve as the year goes on; we’ve got some new combinations.
“The club has a great culture. It has had a great culture for many, many years. It’s important that the younger players that have come into the squad over the past 18 months, and the new players that come to the club, understand the competitive nature of the great players that have been here for the past ten or so years. That competitive nature helped us through last season. The Wellos, the James Grahams, the Keiron Cunninghams, Paul Sculthorpes. Last year we had sides on the field that I felt weren’t as good as other sides from a talent point of view. But the guys competed hard. If we can get that throughout the squad I’m optimistic we can have an exciting year.”
Meanwhile Saints also report a healthy commercial interest for the forthcoming season, having filled their sponsorship portfolio, with major sponsor Typhoo having extended their agreement for a further three years, and other sponsors also agreeing new deals.
“Saints really are is a great place with their fantastic commercial support to date, and we are truly grateful for all our sponsors and partners support as we enter the new season ahead,” said Saints Head of Sales & Marketing Dave Hutchinson.
CLOSE SEASON INJURY REPORT
Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (hip) – ready to resume training next week
Rich Beaumont (groin surgery) – ready for new season
Sia Soliola (knee) – ready for new season
Mose Masoe (ankle surgery) – will miss first two weeks of season.
Luke Thompson – (foot) – ready for season.
Kyle Amor (wrist surgery) – fit for season start.
Walsh is the out-and-out halfback that Saints were so obviously missing last season. He had a first season at home-town Newcastle before moving to Penrith for five seasons, notching 120 first-grade games. There’s a lot of responsibility on his shoulders but he could take time to settle into the English game.
Big. At over 20 stones the giant Samoan will take some stopping. And he likes to use his full force in the tackle too. He’ll be used in short spells off the bench and if, as is designed, he can get defences back-tracking, James Roby could have his best ever year.
The former Embassy-Longhill junior, now 25 years of age, had his career at Hull KR stymied by injury, needing surgery on a long-standing back injury and then breaking his leg in a pre-season match against Hull FC in 2012. Last season was effectively his first full year in first grade and he took the eye in his 14 games.
Wakefield would have dearly loved to hold on to Cumbrian Amor, but they got an offer they couldn’t refuse from Saints and he will add power and aggression up the middle for them. He improved greatly at Wakefield after signing from Leeds and will be good value in a beefed-up Saints pack.
The winger was signed by Nathan Brown from Castleford when he was at the helm at the Giants, but never got a real chance through injury. Brown rates him highly
SAINTS TOP OPTA PERFORMERS IN 2013
Willie Manu 13451
Jon Wilkin 13133
Paul Wellens 12826
Lance Hohaia 11874
Jonathan Lomax 10808
St Helens major sponsors for 2014
Principal shirt sponsors: Typhoo
Collar sponsor: St Helens College
Rear collar and arm sponsors: Totally Wicked electronic cigarettes
Shoulder sponsor: Hattons Solicitors
Saints squad for 2014
1 Jonny Lomax
2 Tommy Makinson
3 Jordan Turner
4 Josh Jones
5 Adam Swift
6 Lance Hohaia
7 Luke Walsh
8 Mose Masoe
9 James Roby
10 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook
11 Sia Soliola
12 Jon Wilkin
13 Willie Manu
14 Anthony Laffranchi
15 Mark Flanagan
16 Kyle Amor
17 Paul Wellens
18 Alex Walmsley
19 Paul Clough
20 Richard Beaumont
21 Ade Gardner
22 Mark Percival
23 Joe Greenwood
24 Gary Wheeler
25 Anthony Walker
26 Matt Dawson
27 Greg Richards
28 Luke Thompson
29 Jordan Hand
30 Carl Forster
31 James Tilley
32 Lewis Charnock
33 Andre Savelio
34 Connor Dwyer
35 Alex Clare
INS: Luke Walsh (Penrith Panthers – scrum-half), Mose Masoe (Penrith Panthers – prop), Richard Beaumont (Hull Kingston Rovers – prop), Kyle Amor (Wakefield Trinity – prop), Matt Dawson (Huddersfield Giants – winger)
OUTS: Stuart Howarth (loan return, Salford), Dan Yates (UTC), Francis Meli, Tony Puletua (Salford), Lee Gaskell (Bradford), Josh Perry (retired), Dominic Speakman (Barrow Raiders), Nathan Ashe (released).Comment on this and other stories on the Total Rugby League Fans Forum