St Helens coach Kristian Woolf has no regrets about the departure of boom prop forward Luke Thompson to the NRL and he admits that Saints have no worries about continuing to be successful without the England and Great Britain star.
Thompson left the Totally Wicked Stadium to join Canterbury Bulldogs, for whom he has featured since early last month and Woolf wishes him well, while Saints replaced him with veteran James Graham, who returned to the club last month to make his first St Helens appearance since 2011.
“It’s like when a player is injured. You have to move on and you have to trust the fact that you have players who can do a job,” said Woolf.
“I have kept an eye on Luke in the NRL and I think he’s doing a really good job. We certainly know what a class player Luke is and we had no doubts whatsoever that he would succeed in the NRL.
“But it’s not about replicating someone you used to have. It’s about players coming into the group, bringing their own strengths and abilities, while we analyse what they offer and then utilise their talent to benefit the team.
“I’ve spoken a number of times about how happy I’ve been with what James Graham has brought to us. He’s a very different player (to Luke), but he brings a real enthusiasm and toughness and you know that you are going to get the absolute best out of him every single week.
“What he’s terrific at doing is to make those players around him better players. That’s how we’ve approached it and it’s how we’ll continue approaching it.”
Woolf was also delighted last week with Saints winger Regan Grace after the young Welsh winger opened his 2020 tryscoring account with a hat-trick of tries against Leeds Rhinos.
“Regan has a lot of improvement in him because he is still relatively new,” says Woolf.
“You can’t expect those sort of tries every weekend. But you are seeing a glimpse of his capabilities, that’s for sure.”
And, with his Tonga coaching hat on, Woolf admits he was delighted with the performances of Israel Folau and Tui Lolohea, who both were awarded three Albert Goldthorpe Medal points in Round 8.
“I think both of them are exceptional players,” said Woolf.
“You certainly don’t have to sell Tui’s talents to me. He has been part of our (Tongan) squad since 2015 and he has been a very talented player in the NRL and a very talented player over here.
“He is a big part of what we do in the Tongan team and he has been since first breaking into it. I know what he’s capable of and to watch the way he played for Salford was no surprise to me at all.
“Israel is exactly the same. He is an extremely talented player. If you look at what he was doing in the NRL in a very strong Melbourne team and then a very strong Brisbane team and playing State of Origin at a very young age as well, then you can see what a class player he is.
“He has played for many years for the Wallabies in rugby union. I knew that he’d make a real impact once he came over and found his feet over here, and that’s what he’s done, which he showed against Castleford.
“Any discussion I have with Israel, I will keep to myself and him. But what I will say in terms of him and Tonga is that if he’s the best player, and he showed something of that against Castleford, then there is a very good chance he will be in the team. But the challenge for him is to do that every week.
“I love Rugby League and I want to see players who grew up playing our game, and who excel in it, actually playing our game. When you see a really talented player go across to another code, and Israel has played AFL as well as rugby union, you always lose something, although there is always someone who comes through and replaces them. But I certainly prefer to see those players playing our sport.”
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