Keiron Cunningham has admitted that young St Helens half-back Danny Richardson “isn’t far off” breaking through into the club’s first-team in 2017.
Speaking to TotalRL last week prior to the serious leg injury suffered by Matty Smith in their opening pre-season friendly against Widnes, Cunningham said that the highly-regarded pivot is putting himself into contention for a spot in his 17 following a strong pre-season thus far.
And although Cunningham has since had to shuffle his plans with the news that Smith will be out for a lengthy period, he did admit prior to the setback that Richardson is slowly coming into his thinking.
“Danny Richo isn’t far off,” Cunningham said. “He’s in the mix and he’s trained exceptionally well this pre-season. I think the fool’s coach holds people back for the sake of it, and that’s something I don’t do.
“If I believe a player is ready to go and he can handle the pressures of first-team level and he’ll add value to the team then reputation will go out of the window. Regardless of who you are or where you play.
“He’s been ready and willing for a long time has Danny, but sometimes you’ve got to protect these kids from themselves. As I say, he’s trained really well and we’ll re-evaluate for Castleford.”
Cunningham also said prior to Smith’s injury that if they were “lucky” with injuries, Jon Wilkin would likely spend the entire season in the forwards and not revive his role of recent years as a makeshift half-back whom the Saints have had to call on when players have been on the sidelines.
“We’ll have a look in the next two weeks; if you get lucky with injuries there’s no reason Wilko should come into the halves,” he said. “He will be an out-and-out middle man through the year so he’ll get his hands on the ball enough anyway.”
And Cunningham also said he is planning on fielding a much smaller squad in this Sunday’s pre-season clash against Castleford.
He said: “We’ll be cutting the squad dramatically for Castleford and if you’re in there then you’re going to have a fairly good shot at being in the team for round one and the opening night.
“There’ll be some people with a point to prove.”