St Helens boss highlights key event which inspired Catalans Dragons victory with returning forward praised

Ben Olawumi
Paul Wellens, Agnatius Paasi

St Helens boss Paul Wellens hailed Agnatius Paasi following his return to action after almost 11 months out

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens said Agnatius Paasi’s return gave his depleted squad all the inspiration they needed to pick up a first win against Catalans Dragons in over two years, hailing the Tongan’s instant impact.

Paasi featured off the interchange bench in Friday night’s 24-12 success on home soil, playing a game at senior level for the first time since last July’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Leigh Leopards.

In making his return, the forward helped Wellens’ side to victory against Catalans for the first time since April 2022 having lost all five of the prior meetings.

The 32-year-old’s game time remains restricted for the time being, playing circa a quarter-of-an-hour all told as he helped the Red V over the line.

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St Helens boss Paul Wellens highlights key event which inspired Catalans Dragons victory

Ex-New Zealand Warriors & Gold Coast Titans ace Paasi’s journey back to the field has been a long and arduous one, sustaining MCL, ACL & Anke ligament damage all at the same time.

The injuries were picked up in one tackle last July, but he was unable to have surgery on his ACL – and begin the rehab process – until late August, having to wait for ankle ligament damage to heal before he could go under the knife.

Signposting his long-awaited return as motivation for everyone involved, Wellens said: “It is tough when you’re missing players, but when you have players returning from injury or, like we had at Castleford a couple of weeks ago where Noah (Stephens) was making his debut, it does give the group a lift.

“It gives them that little bit more energy, I think, and it’s important that we continue to give people opportunities as well.

“That might come in the next few weeks. There’s some good young players there who are chomping at the bit and wanting an opportunity, and we’ve all got to be ready.

“At this moment in time, we are down on numbers, but I’m excited about that challenge and how we can show what we’re about as a club in that little bit of adversity.”

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Returning forward Agnatius Paasi praised

Courtesy of their victory, Saints ensured their spot at the top of the Super League table would be in tact come the end of the weekend, joint with rivals Wigan Warriors or Warrington Wolves – who play one another on Saturday afternoon – at worst.

Highlighting Paasi’s immediate impact upon returning, chief Wellens continued: “I think he’s delighted just to be out there and playing again.

“Down the track, he’ll want more minutes, that’s for sure. He won’t be happy with just playing the 15 minutes or so, but today it was just about us getting him back out there.

“I thought he was really, really effective. He carried the ball strong, plugged into the defensive line, created some ruck speed for us and handled himself really well in defence.

“I thought physically, that was always going to be the biggest challenge for him today, where he’s at physically, and he handled that really well as well.

“That’s a credit to him for all the hard work that he’s put in. Myself and the team, everyone connected, are so delighted for Iggy just to see him back out there.

“One of the biggest things I can say about him, there’s no nervousness or apprehension there around the fact that he’s been injured.

“He’s feeling really confident around his knee, he’s looking powerful and carrying the ball strong, all that’s showing up in training as well.

“If we’re not seeing that day to day and week to week in training, then he’s not playing tonight.

“All the evidence suggests that he’s ready to go, and it’s great to have the big fella out there, particularly with where we’re at with our forwards at the moment.”

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