Jon Wilkin has warned that St Helens must use their Challenge Cup semi-final against Leigh Leopards next week to start preparing for life after James Roby.
The veteran hooker will retire at the end of 2023, and won’t play any part in that last-four tie having failed a Head Injury Assessment last night following a knock in their gut-wrenching 14-12 defeat to Catalans Dragons.
Concussion protocol dictates he must now sit on the sidelines for 11 days, so if Paul Wellens’ side fail to reach the final, Roby will have played in the competition for the final time.
Jon Wilkin: “Life after Roby needs to happen”
Speaking on Sky Sports post-match last night, Wilkin said: “Life after Roby needs to happen here for Saints. He’s creaking, he’s an old guy, but he’s still got that huge aura about him because he’s a real leader.
“He brings so much enthusiasm, passion and respect out of his teammates, but the reality is that he’s done at the end of this year.
“They’re going to have to learn how to play without him, and they’re going to have to give somebody that opportunity to take up that role.
“Joey Lussick now gets to go into a Challenge Cup semi-final and probably prove a point to everybody who thinks that Saints can’t do it without James.”
Wilkin praises medical protocols
37-year-old Roby will be joined in the stands for next week’s semi-final by another experienced head in Mark Percival. The centre also failed a Head Injury Assessment having had to leave the field following a blow to the head against league leaders Catalans.
Between them, that pair have amassed over 750 appearances for Saints, and exactly 800 in their careers overall. They’ll undoubtedly be a big miss for boss Wellens and their teammates, which is why Wilkin – a former Saint himself – had high praise for the medical team at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
He added: “There’s big consequences next week. It’s easy for players to go down the tunnel and that [protocol] not be adhered to correctly. It’s easy for it to be done where someone’s just passed and they’re fine when they’re not.
“I love in our game that we do the right thing now and we look after the players. Mark Percival’s had a bad knock there, and I’m glad that saying he’s fine just to get him in next week doesn’t happen anymore. It’s the right thing.”
St Helens down but not out according to fellow pundit
The defeat to Catalans saw Saints accrue a seventh loss this term in Super League. That’s more than any of the Red Vee’s sides since 2017, and the most in their period of dominance, having currently won the last four Grand Finals in a row.
Wilkin’s colleague Jamie Jones-Buchanan refused to back against the World Champions last night though, passionate that success this season is still very much possible.
The four-time Grand Final winner said: “I played in a team in 2015 that lost nine games but still managed to finish top and go on to get the treble done.
“You never, ever write the Saints off. It’s still all on for them. That’s what Paul Wellens needs to be saying to his players this week ahead of a big semi-final.”