As a Saints fan it has been a long few years without a trophy, we last tasted success with a Challenge Cup win in 2008. At the beginning of the 2013 season I was hopeful that we had a chance of some honours, but after the first game, a drubbing by Huddersfield Giants, a long season lay ahead. Whenever we gathered some momentum an injury crisis would occur and I lost count of the number of half back combinations we tried. The pivotal positions were not settled, our scrum half became our full back, our hooker got injured twice, our loose forward became stand off, our on loan scrum half suffered concussion on a few occasions with various other injury problems too. I was relieved when the season was over, at least there was a World Cup to enjoy but that brought further suffering.
On to 2014, the squad has strengthened with the addition of Luke Walsh the organising, goal kicking scrum half that we have been craving for. Like many others I watched him a few times for Penrith Panthers, he came alive in the oppositions half, his kicking was deadly accurate but he did not seem to attack and break the line. Will his game change in Super League with perhaps less intense defences only time will tell, he had the cleanest shirt on the pitch during the pre season game with Wigan. In that game I saw first hand his organisation skills, he was constantly talking and pointing at every play the ball, his kicking game looked sharp too and when one bookie had him at 50/1 for Man of Steel, it certainly looked overpriced and hopefully I’ll be quids in. (now 12/1)
The pack has certainly been increased in size with the arrivals of Richard Beaumont, Mose Masoe and Kyle Amor could it perhaps be the biggest in Super League this year in terms of bulk and numbers? The most impressive signing for me has been Amor he was on our radar for 2015 but with the troubles at Wakefield we paid a transfer fee and brought him a year early. For me he was their most outstanding player when we visited their place last season as he offered plenty of go forward and was hard to put down, at 16/1 to be in the Dream Team he will be thereabouts.
Matty Dawson has joined in the three quarters and with the promotion of some younger players the squad currently sits at 35, this is rather large with the pack looking top heavy. This is on the back of 35 different players putting on the first team jersey in 2013, will we therefore see some go out on loan? Our squad numbers have been shuffled with Jonny Lomax now fullback and number 1, Tommy Makinson (2), Josh Jones (4), Adam Swift (5) which almost means starting berths but surprisingly Jordan Turner (3) is playing stand off with Mark Percival taking the other centre position in pre season. I have not doubt we will see some other debutants during this season with Andre Savelio the most talked of.
The question it raises as we approach the first game versus Warrington is, can we cope with injuries again? Walsh need to remain fit for the majority of the season and he needs a partner at half back. Jordan Turner has had a stint there and considering he won Player of the Season in the centre there have been calls for a fit again Gary Wheeler to be given his chance, it will also avoid Nathan Brown meddling with players and their positions. I tried to pick my first 17 and considering the size of the squad it still lacks depth especially in the pivots, apparently Paul Wellens has put in some work with Keiron Cunningham in the off season and could pop up at hooker from the bench. The starting props are a difficult choice, one has to be Amor but Masoe (injured for this one) and Walmsley are definitely better as impact from the bench. LMS may place loose forward, Laffranchi could start so we go big or mobile, where does that leave Wilkin and Wellens, they are all difficult choices.
The Warrington team will be without Brett Hodgson, Adrian Morley, Gareth Carvell and stalwart Lee Briers, all older players with a lot of experience. In replacing these Matty Russell has come in at full back, Stefan Ratchford has moved to his preferred position at stand off, Roy Asotasi is on board too. The squad seems to lack depth and even the other night Michael Monaghan played stand off with Ratchford having to move to full back. For the last few years we have teased Wire with “it is always your year” now on the back of two Grand Final losses but I feel we need to believe that it is our year and a trophy has to be delivered this time around. Relegation is back, it will be a long season as per usual but I can’t wait, come on you Saints.
Name: Paul Ellison
Club: St Helens
I have no record of my first game, we moved house in 1984 and left behind in our new loft was a silk Saints scarf and it created my first interest. Unfortunately I didn’t see Mal Meninga play as I reckon my first game was in the 1986/87 season with said scarf, during our run to the Challenge Cup Final v Halifax.
Since then I have watched Saints home and away including a trip Down Under in 1997 for the expanded World Club Challenge, if only they’ll do that again.
During that time I have seen us lift the Super League Trophy five times and the Challenge Cup seven times, considering in all our history we have been Champions and Cup Winners both 12 times that has been tremendous success.
I also volunteer at Blackbrook Royals JRLFC where my oldest son plays for the Under 10s.