Garry Schofield suggests that St Helens’ young stars are capable of leading them to another Super League title.
This season is far from over, but St Helens fans must already be licking their lips about 2022, when their side could be seeking a fourth straight title.
That hasn’t been achieved since the 1990s, when Wigan were kings of the hill and were champions seven times running.
We know there will be at least two new faces at Saints, with Will Hopoate, who has played under Kristian Woolf for Tonga, coming in from Canterbury Bulldogs to replace Hull KR-bound Lachlan Coote at fullback, and second rower Curtis Sironen arriving from Manly Sea Eagles.
Being the son of my old Balmain Tigers teammate Paul Sironen, the great Australia and New South Wales forward, I’ve watched Curtis’s career quite closely, and with all his NRL experience, first with Wests Tigers, I think he’ll be a useful acquisition.
Of course Saints already have a fair bit of talent on board, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Lewis Dodd and Jack Welsby progress.
With Jonny Lomax and Theo Fages absent, those two have been handed a chance to pair up in the halves, and it’s been great to see.
They both have bags of potential, and seem confident without being cocky, willing to put in the work but also try off-the-cuff things, which is so important in those roles.
Welsby, of course, hogged the headlines with last season’s Grand Final performance against Wigan, but both he and his coach have made a point of saying the big challenge is to kick on, and he’s certainly done that.
He looks so comfortable in a variety of positions, and it’s fair to assume we’ll see both he and Dodd take to the field on a regular basis.
Welsby is ahead in terms of both age and experience, but Dodd has really caught my eye as well, and I want to see both of them challenging for a place in the England squad for next year’s World Cup.
Of course the way to do that is by being consistent at club level, and the pair of them looked in fine fettle as Leeds were taken apart at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
At times this year, I’ve criticised Saints for thinking they can turn the tap on and off when they like, bit to be fair, it needed just a trickle to overrun feeble Leeds on Friday.
The Rhinos looked like they’d rather have remained in the car park than gone out onto the pitch, and while I know they have a lengthy injury list, but the attitude of those who did play didn’t impress me.
It’s no wonder a big, strong bloke like Alex Walmsley had such a field day, and Leeds concern me.
It all had the air of putting their play-off eggs in one basket – when they host Hull KR on Friday – but that’s a dangerous game, and those top-six hopes could end up cracking.
Should Castleford win at home to Warrington and therefore book a play-off place (I think they’ll do it by 14 points), the Leeds versus Rovers match will decide who gets the final top-six place.
What a great showdown it should be, and I can see Rovers coach Tony Smith going back to his old Headingley stomping ground and overseeing a ten-point success.
Given they have sealed second place and a home play-off semi-final tie, it will be interesting to see what kind of side Saints put out at Salford, and I think Richard Marshall’s men might pinch it by eight.
New broom or old clothes?
Is it a new broom at Huddersfield as Ian Watson shapes the squad for his second season in charge, or more a case of the old pals’ act?
On his appointment last November, the former Salford chief made a big deal of talking up the Giants’ credentials.
“I was attracted to the potential at the club. Everything about it screams top four,” he proclaimed.
It’s been bottom four this year, and while Huddersfield showed a bit of spirit in winning 30-18 at Catalans, could there have been a better time to visit France, given the League Leaders’ Shield had been clinched the week before?
One result doesn’t make a season, and if his side doesn’t show signs of improvement in the early stages of 2022, Watson will come under real pressure.
I get that it can take time for a coach to implement new ideas, new processes and new ways of doing things, or “structures” as Ian likes to call them.
But other than the arrival of the exciting Will Pryce on the scene, how many Huddersfield fans have seen genuine signs of progress?
Chris Hill, a former team-mates of Watson’s at Leigh, is coming in on a two-year contract, and he’s a top prop who has played internationally and will do the hard yards.
But he’s 33 and carries the wear and tear of close to 480 matches, and with the best will in the world, that must take its toll.
And while Leroy Cudjoe and Michael Lawrence have both provided superb and loyal service to their hometown club, isn’t it time to go with fresher legs rather than dad’s army?
Given they host Leigh, at least Huddersfield should close this campaign with two successive wins, and I’m going the Giants by 20.
Over at Wakefield, where a badly out of form Hull visit, I think Trinity will triumph by 20, while Wigan will beat Catalans by ten.
Thanks to Jimmy’s
Thank you everyone who has messaged me with good wishes since I wrote about my eye problem in this column back in June.
As I explained, I suffered a detached retina in December 2019, and despite seven operations and three laser treatments, the damage proved impossible to repair.
Having lost the sight in my left eye, which was a huge blow, I will now have an eighth operation, this time to have it removed, at the end of this month.
An artificial version will be inserted, and while I obviously won’t be able to see out of it, it should mean there is a lot less discomfort.
The last 22 months have been difficult, both physically and mentally, but I’ve grown used to coping with one eye, and hopefully after this surgery, I can move on.
I’m sure all the superb staff at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, who have dealt with me so professionally, won’t mind me saying that it will be good not to be in contact any longer!
I really can’t overstate the first-class quality of care and support I have received, particularly given the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Let’s remember Les
I’d like to draw attention to a memorial event being put on by the family and friends of the late Les Pyrah, who was treasurer of the Silsden club near Keighley, on Saturday week.
Les was a smashing bloke and a lifelong Rugby League fan who gave great service to the game for many years. He sadly died in April 2020.
Everyone who knew Les, and that’s a good number of people, is invited to Steeton Hall, on Station Road, Steeton, near Keighley, from 4pm on September 25.
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