Analysing St Helens’ pack options as Super League injury crisis deepens

Aaron Bower
Joe Batchelor St Helens

To suggest that St Helens are experiencing somewhat of a crisis in the pack at present would be somewhat of an understatement.

Paul Wellens’ side are certainly doing it tough, with an already hefty injury list made worse after last weekend’s victory over Leeds with injuries to Jonny Lomax and Joe Batchelor.

Wellens will likely provide an update on the pair on Tuesday when he sits down with the media for his weekly press conference, but judging by his comments after the game on Friday, Batchelor and Lomax could be missing for extended periods, with Batchelor’s loss in particular a blow.

That is because it comes at a time when the Saints are already without a number of frontline, senior forwards – leaving Wellens extremely thin on the ground for options. Here’s the situation at the Saints in closer detail.

Who’s definitely missing this week in the pack?

We know that Alex Walmsley, Morgan Knowles, Jake Wingfield and Matt Whitley are out for the foreseeable.

All four have undergone surgery in recent weeks, with the loss of Knowles, Wingfield and Whitley coming in a triple blow earlier this month. The Saints had already confirmed earlier in the season that Walmsley would go under the knife to repair a torn meniscus.

They are confident all four will return for the latter part of the season but in the here and now, it leaves the Saints incredibly thin on the ground.

Expect Batchelor to join that list too. He left the field after just six minutes last Friday and as Wellens said: “The scans will dictate how long he will be out for, but the fact he couldn’t play on, and Joe is a tough bloke, is probably a sign that he won’t be there for a few weeks.”

What are Wellens’ options in the pack?

Looking at the men who were in the 21 on Friday but not the 17.. not a great deal. With Batchelor out, back-rower Sam Royle seems most likely to get elevated up into the 17 this weekend, though youngster Jonny Vaughan also has some experience of playing there.

There’s the option of slotting James Bell in at back row perhaps, given how he started at 13 on Friday. But the Saints may prefer to keep one of their most influential forwards in a key role.

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Are there any other problem areas?

Without doubt. With Lomax suffering a potential fractured hand, he is also looking at a number of weeks on the sidelines if Wellens’ worst fears from Friday night are confirmed.

That issue is fairly straightforward, with Moses Mbye likely to get a prolonged run at half-back – though the Saints could put Jack Welsby there and play Jon Bennison in his preferred position of fullback.

But if Mbye gets the nod, the Saints will need someone to come in and spell for Daryl Clark off the bench – or Clark may have to step up and try and deliver an 80-minute effort against one of the biggest sides in the league in Catalans.

That could leave the door ajar for someone like young half-back George Whitby to get a shot.

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Is there ANY good news?

Well, yes. The imminent return of Agnatius Paasi gives Wellens an enormous lift at exactly the right time – but he has already said he will not accelerate any comeback based off other injury problems.

Having spent almost a year on the sidelines due to a serious injury, Paasi’s return seems certain to be gradual and careful. However, you do wonder if he is ready to go, whether he will be thrown straight back into the 17 this weekend at a time when the Saints need a senior forward more than ever this season.

That could perhaps free up Sione Mata’utia to take Batchelor’s spot on the edge – but Ben Davies, who started on the bench last week, could just as easily get the nod.

Possible line-up: Welsby; Makinson, Hurrell, Percival, Blake; Mbye, Dodd; Mata’utia, Clark, Lees, Sironen, Davies, Bell. Interchange: Paasi, Delaney, Stephens, Royle.

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