Paul Wellens spoke exclusively to Love Rugby League after he was officially unveiled as the new head coach of his hometown club St Helens.
The 42-year-old has signed a two-year deal. The club have the option to extend his contract by a further year.
Wellens has worked as assistant to Justin Holbrook and Kristian Woolf for several years, playing a key role in helping the Saints win four Super League Grand Finals in a row.
Here’s everything Wellens had to say on taking up his first head coaching role in an interview which was streamed live on the Love Rugby League Facebook page…
Becoming St Helens head coach
I’m immensely proud. I’ve supported this club for a long time. I stood on the terraces when I was a boy at Knowsley Road. I had the unbelievable privilege of playing here for many years so to take up this position is not lost on me. It is a huge responsibility but one that I am looking forward to.
When Kristian Woolf moved on
When it became clear that Kristian would be moving on I made my intentions perfectly clear to Mike (Rush, chief executive) and Eamonn (McManus, chairman) that it was an opportunity I wanted to take up; and one that I had thought I’d earned. My ambition was always to be a head coach so I’m delighted they’ve shown faith in me. I’ve obviously got a great connection with the club but also this playing group and what it has achieved in recent years never surprises me. I’m looking forward to working with this group of players because I know how dedicated they are and they want to win.
Paul Wellens on high expectation
One thing I like about this club is the expectancy. Whenever we start a Super League season we have one goal in mind. Whether we’ve won the last four or not won the last four, that goal doesn’t change. What this group has developed over the years is an understanding of how to win big games and that is invaluable. There’s not many coaches within this sport that wouldn’t want to work with this group of players so I see it as a huge honour. I feel that we’ve got more in us and we can achieve more success.
Stepping down as England assistant
That was a really difficult decision. I’ve been involved with England for a while now. I was really excited about the opportunity of being involved with England at the World Cup. I’ve been keeping Shaun Wane up to date with things that have been going on here. I told him I wouldn’t be able to do the World Cup if I was to take this job on. I can’t thank Shaun enough for his understanding and support, particularly because he knows what it’s like coaching his hometown team. I’ll be an England fan from my armchair throughout the course of the World Cup. I wish the team every bit of success.
Being assisted by Laurent Frayssinous
When looking for an assistant coach there were a few things that I had in mind. With me being a rookie head coach, I wanted to have someone with experience of being a head coach. That’s something that Laurent had for a number of years at Catalans. He’s now the French national head coach, so he’ll experience a lot in that role too. He’s worked with some amazing coaches like Mick Potter, Trent Robinson and David Waite. I have a great amount of respect for all of them.
We’ve got people at this organisation who work hard but have been here a very long time, so I think bringing someone like Laurent in with a fresh pair of eyes and a different voice, we might just see little areas in our game where we can evolve and find those improvements because we know all our rivals will be looking at ways they can beat us. We’ve got to do everything we can to stay ahead of the pack.
Recruitment and retention
There’s not too much business to be done. The squad that we finished with last year will probably be the squad that we will be rolling into the start of the season with. We do have salary cap space to bring in some additions should we need to. However, that has got to be a player who fits what we are about as a club. What I mean by that is someone who can perform on the field at a level that this team plays at but also is a good person off it as well.
With Regan Grace moving on, who was that type of player, it has left a bit of a hole for us. If we find the right person then great, but if we don’t then I’m more than happy to roll with our squad. I’ll highlight a player like Jon Bennison, look at the way finished last season, he has got my faith to go out there and do a job. More importantly, he has got the trust of the rest of the playing group as well.
Sean Long appointed Featherstone coach
I’m delighted for Sean. I worked with him here as a coach and I played with him for many, many years. He always had ambitions to go on to be a head coach one day. He has got a great opportunity at Featherstone which is fantastic for him. Still to this day, we remain in regular contact. He is someone I consider a really good friend, not just an ex-team-mate. I wish him every bit of success and I’m sure we’ll continue to share ideas over the coming months.
Paul Wellens sends message to the St Helens faithful
To continue the fantastic support they give this team week in, week out. I feel at the moment we’ve got a town that loves its team but I know this group of players are fully invested in them as well. They love how much support they get from the fans every week. The community is something we are hugely passionate about here at St Helens. The players will be doing a lot more work in the community to strengthen our bond with our supporters.