Paul Wellens backed to become St Helens head coach following Kristian Woolf exit

Departing St Helens coach Kristian Woolf believes right-hand man Paul Wellens would be a great choice as his successor.

The former Saints, Great Britain and England fullback is a leading contender to take over from the Australian, who has confirmed he will depart after three seasons to work with Wayne Bennett at Dolphins, the new Queensland-based NRL team.

Before then, Woolf will attempt to steer Saints through the play-offs to a fourth successive title, which would an unprecedented achievement in the Super League era, then take charge of Tonga for the World Cup, having led them to the semi-finals in 2017.

Saints, the League Leaders’ Shield winners, play their home play-off semi-final on Saturday week, September 17.

St Helens-born one-club man Wellens, 42, joined the coaching staff after hanging up his boots in 2015 (he helped win two World Cub Challenges, five titles and five Challenge Cups). He is also part of Shaun Wane’s England set-up.

“It’s not my decision, but I would 100 percent endorse Paul Wellens,” said Woolf, who arrived at Saints to succeed Justin Holbrook from Newcastle Knights, having previously coached in the Queensland Cup.

“He is honest and trustworthy, traits you need in a good coach, and he has a good demeanour.

“He has worked with people like Wayne Bennett (also with England) and Shaun Wane, and the biggest rap I can give him is that he thinks about the game a little differently.

“He questions me, throws ideas at me. Sometimes we run with them, sometimes I think differently. He also spends a lot of time thinking about how he gives messages.

“He has been the best assistant I’ve ever worked with.”

Should Saints, who have eight Super League titles so far, make a 14th Grand Final, they will have a day less than their opponents to prepare.

The table-toppers generally play first, but Woolf made light of the decision to allow Wigan to stage their home semi-final on Friday week, September 16 (the town’s football club are in action at the DW Stadium the following day).

“The players like a seven-day turnaround, the longer the lead-in is, the more you can over-think it. I probably see it as our advantage,” he said.

“But we have to win the semi-final before we play a Grand Final.”

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