St Helens coach Kristian Woolf has heaped praise on his Grand Final winning team and especially the departing Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote yet stressed that the Saints’ ‘class of 2022’ will be the same if different
“It’s no coincidence that these two blokes have come along and we have won these trophies,” pointed out the 46-year Australian coach, who has overseen two of his side’s league titles plus a Challenge Cup success after taking over from Justin Holbrook at the end of 2019.
“It’s obviously not all down to them – it’s a collective thing – but they have been part of that and when you bring in players, especially overseas players, you need to know they are going to contribute and buy into everything that St Helens are about.
“That’s why we have been so successful and replacing them is going to be difficult.
“But I’m very confident about what we are going to do going forward.
“The majority of players about whom this (winning) culture is based on are still here.
“They have the hunger and they are the ones who do the hard work and have to drive the culture.
“There are going to be some changes and we are going to be a different team next year.
“We’ve lost some terrific players during the last couple of years – the likes of Luke Thompson, James Graham, Dom Peyroux and others, but we make very sure that anyone we bring in is exactly like a Kev Naiqama, like a Lachlan Coote, and will add to the group, both on and off the field.
“We have young players coming through, which means that we don’t have to replace some of those players.
“We have outstanding guys like Lewis Dodd and Jack Welsby coming through and the work ethic and culture is ingrained in them, so they are going to go out and compete just as hard as this year’s group of players did.
“They are two of the best kids that I have ever worked with and I’ve been lucky to work with some really good ones.
“Joe Batchelor is another one and they have already shown that they are ready not only to step into this team but to add their own little bits to give us just as strong.
“We have to enjoy what this group has done. There are a lot who didn’t play who were big contributors, like Theo Fages, James Bentley, Josh Eaves, Joel Thompson and others who have contributed during the year, but not tonight, yet they made the group so special.
“We are always looking for improvement and with different players coming in, having different strengths, we’ll be a slightly different team next year. So it’s important that we appreciate what this special group of men has achieved.”
Woolf stressed that having a crowd to appreciate Saints’ success made huge difference compared to the memories of last year’s dramatic last-gasp triumph over Wigan.
“The crowd really add to the tension and the last ten minutes were really tense,” he added.
“To hear the noise and reaction of the fans, then going out and spending a couple of minutes on the pitch with the players, enjoying the moment and what we have achieved and hearing the reception from the crowd is one of the reasons these blokes play footy and what makes footy enjoyable.
“Our players put themselves through so much – it’s a physical game and there are not many can match the physicality of Rugby League – and what they want to be is appreciated and when you get that response, it’s an outstanding feeling that makes you want to keep keep striving for more.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.