St Helens boss Paul Wellens remains calm about the potential of finishing 3rd and having to play an extra game to reach Old Trafford ahead of tonight’s final round of regular season games in Super League.
The Red Vee have won the last four Grand Finals, achieving unprecedented success. Not since 2017 have they finished outside the top two, having – deservedly – enjoyed a lot going their own way over the last few years.
Saints didn’t top the league table in either 2020 or 2021, though finishing as runners-up still meant that to get to Old Trafford, they only had to win one game, and on both occasions it was on home soil.
Wellens’ side this time around look likely to finish 3rd, and in turn would need to play an additional game to get there, with a potential semi-final coming away against either Wigan Warriors or Catalans Dragons. The head coach though isn’t concerned, trusting in his side after their performances to this point.
St Helens coach Paul Wellens not concerned about potential of finishing outside the top two
In his first year at the helm, Wellens saw his side lose seven of their first 18 league outings, the most recent of those a narrow 14-12 loss to Catalans at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Since then though, they’ve won all eight in Super League and clawed themselves back into contention. With a home clash against Hull FC tonight to round the regular season off, the 3rd-placed Red Vee could push into the top two with victory if either Wigan or the Dragons slip up.
Wellens has already said he doesn’t expect that to happen, but earlier this week he cut the figure of a man who will remain unfazed regardless. He said: “I think you can talk about doing things differently to the past, but that’s been the story of this season for us.
“In recent years, we’ve got out in front and we’ve had a bit of a leeway there. We’ve never had a trip to Australia, and we’ve certainly had our disruptions with injuries and things like that, so it’s been a different challenge for this group but again one I’m immensely proud of because they’ve risen to that challenge.
“The last six or seven weeks have been really heart-warming for me as a coach to see how much these players still want to win and still want to be successful. They still want to be a part of those big games, and obviously now those games are here. It’s a big one this week, and then we’ve got the play-offs to follow.
“There’s bigger challenges to come moving forward, but I couldn’t be prouder of the group for getting us to where we sit at this moment in time. I think we just concentrate on our game… I’m sure that we’ll have people in our ears saying what’s happening in other areas, but at the same time, it won’t alter my approach or the player’s approach to what we need to do on Friday.”
Wellens details moment that ‘flicked the switch’ for St Helens in 2023
After the aforementioned defeat to Catalans back in July, Saints were then dumped out of the Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage by Leigh Leopards in a pulsating last-four encounter.
Veteran winger Tommy Makinson missed a late kick which would have levelled the scores up and taken the tie to Golden Point, with the Leopards running out 14-12 victors and leaving many Saints bodies slumped to the floor of the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Losing in the semis of the cup competition for a second year running, the boss told Love Rugby League he believed that proved a key moment in Saints’ campaign.
He added: ” I think it was a big moment in the season, obviously it was a really disappointing one for us because we were desperate to go to Wembley, but I think when you go through those difficult times and you lose an important game like that, you have a choice as a team.
“You can let it affect you and use it as an excuse to not kick on and to not adhere to the standards that we’ve set ourselves for a number of years, or you want to go out there and prove that you are still a good team and you are still serious contenders.
“I think that’s what we’ve done in the last six, seven, eight weeks. We’ve risen to a challenge, gone out there, performed, worked hard and won games. That’s always the challenge when you represent this club.
“That’s one of the reasons when I say I’m proud of this group, I’m proud of the way that they respond in difficult circumstances, but I also know that there are bigger challenges which now lie ahead, and we’ll have to rise to those as well.”