St Helens head coach Paul Wellens believes that all the motivation his side need for this weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final came via last Thursday’s defeat to Catalans Dragons – they must now do it for James Roby.
The Red Vee’s veteran captain will retire at the end of this year to bring an end to a glittering career, hoping to bow out on a high.
If that’s to happen in terms of the Challenge Cup, Roby will need the help of his teammates now though. The hooker won’t be able to play any part in trying to help fire Saints to Wembley when they face Catalans Dragons on Saturday, missing out via concussion protocols.
He took a knock early on in that defeat to Catalans at the Totally Wicked Stadium, failing a HIA. Accordingly, at least 11 days on the sidelines must follow.
Roby could have played his last game in the Challenge Cup as a result, but Wellens believes the rest of his squad know that can’t be the case. He wants them to harness the skipper’s loss, and use it as fuel when they step out against the Leopards.
Paul Wellens: James Roby’s loss is a huge motivator
The Saints boss, also a one-club man, was unable to have a triumphant end to his own career. Retiring in 2015, he saw Leeds Rhinos pick up the League Leaders’ Shield, Challenge Cup and Grand Final treble.
The Rhinos that year knocked Wellens and his St Helens teammates out of the cup at the semi-final stage, and did the same in the play-offs to prevent his dream ending.
“I certainly hope the players think along those lines,” the Saints boss said when asked about the motivation behind the retiree missing out on Saturday.
“We want to be successful this year because we want to be successful every year, but another huge motivator in that is sending James Roby out as a champion because that’s what he is.
“It’s not just James, it’s Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s last year with the club too. I feel sorry for Louie at times because he’s got someone like James Roby there whose played as many games as he has, and the achievements that Louie’s had in the game can be quite easily overlooked.
“For a front-rower to play as many games as he’s done at the standard and the level, at the age of 37 to be still doing it, speaks volumes for his professionalism as well.”
Wellens discusses previous success in the face of adversity
England and Ireland international McCarthy-Scarsbrook has been at the Totally Wicked Stadium since 2011, and will be in contention for this weekend’s last-four tie.
Another man who won’t be though is Mark Percival. The 29-year-old centre, another long-time servant of the club, also failed a HIA during the defeat to Catalans.
His coach attempted to see the funny side of it, but spoke honestly about what it means to head into such an occasion without the pairing of Percival and Roby.
Wellens said: “The funny thing I’m finding out about coaching is that the more players you lose, the easier it is to pick a team! I’d much prefer to have those headaches though, obviously.
“We’re a better team with Mark Percival and James Roby, I don’t need to sit here and convince anybody of that, but at the same time it presents opportunities to other players to come in and prove themselves.
“What we have dealt with really well in recent years and when we’ve had success is adversity when missing key players at certain times.
“It’s something the group is very used to and its always a squad effort when you are successful and thats something we are going to need this weekend, but also for the rest of the season as well.”
St Helens have the edge in experience
13-time winners of the Challenge Cup, St Helens most recently lifted the prestigious silverware in 2021, beating Castleford Tigers in the competition’s final.
Wellens’ side are currently chasing a ‘five-peat’ having won the previous four Grand Finals, including 2019. The four straight trophy lifts at Old Trafford is unprecedented, with only Leeds prior going three in a row.
Come Saturday, the Red Vee’s chief hopes the experiences of those successes can play a part, but also some failures too. St Helens were beaten semi-finalists in the Challenge Cup in 2018, and lost at Wembley to Warrington the following year.
He added: “A lot of our group now have experience of playing in big games. They’ve won a Challenge Cup a lot of them and played in Grand Finals, so they’ve got a real understanding of how to approach these big games.
“They’ve developed their own experiences through that and I think there’s an element of the group who pre-2019 experienced some heartache as well.
“Losing at Wembley against Warrington, losing in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Catalans [the year before]. These are all experiences that the lads have learned from, but they have helped to shape them into the players they are now.”