St Helens exclusive: Paul Wellens provides recruitment latest amid Waqa Blake links

Ross Heppenstall
Paul Wellens St Helens Waqa Blake Alamy

St Helens coach Paul Wellens (left) and Fiji international Waqa Blake (right) - Alamy

St Helens coach Paul Wellens has confirmed he remains on the look-out for a new signing after jetting off to Cyprus for a pre-season training camp.

Wellens and his squad will spend the next week in sunnier climes as they prepare for the challenge of attempting to regain the Super League title.

Legendary captain James Roby, popular long-serving forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and veteran utility back Will Hopoate all retired at the end of last season.

Saints have been heavily linked with 29-year-old Fiji test centre Waqa Blake as a replacement for Hopoate following his release from Parramatta Eels.

Wellens told Love Rugby League: “We’re on the look-out to strengthen the squad and that’s been no secret for a number of months now.

“When Will Hopoate decided to retire, that spot became vacant and there are a number of players we admire.

“Negotiations are ongoing, but hopefully we can fill that spot before the start of the season.”

St Helens jet off to Cyprus for pre-season training camp

Wellens and his squad headed to Australia for the World Club Challenge last year but their week in Cyprus will certainly be no holiday.

“I think it’s really important to have a warm-weather pre-season camp,” explained Wellens.

“What we quite often get at this time of year is disruption to our schedule because of the weather conditions in the UK.

“But what we know we’ll get in Cyprus is a really solid week’s training and we’re doing it within an Army environment, so there are different challenges that we’ll throw at the players as well.

“We’re super grateful to have this opportunity.”

Saints star Jack Welsby believes the benefits of working hard in pre-season cannot be underestimated.

He told Love Rugby League: “It’s not just about having a camp abroad, but a good pre-season in general can give you a massive boost heading into a new campaign.

“I returned for pre-season one week before Christmas and was then straight back in on January 3, so I feel really fit and excited and I know a lot of the boys do too.”

Paul Wellens looks ahead to the new Super League season

Wellens saw his side become crowned the best club side on the planet in his first official game as St Helens head coach last February as Penrith Panthers 13-12 were beaten in their own backyard.

Assessing the Super League landscape ahead of the new campaign, Wellens said: “It’s going to be an exciting season and one that myself and the playing group can’t wait for.

“There have been a number of changes at several clubs and that uncertainty brings jeopardy which I think only adds to the intrigue.

“It’s a year we’re looking forward to and we know there are going to be a number of challenges along the way.”

Saints’ bid for a record-extending fifth successive Super League title fell short last term after they lost to Catalans Dragons in a dramatic, close-fought semi-final.

Yet Wellens insisted: “I was extremely proud of the team.

“The way we lost late on in the play-off semi-final in Catalans was a pretty cruel way to go out.

“But in terms of the team’s effort and what they gave for each other, I can’t fault them.

“Rest assured, though, there are improvement areas that we need to try and fix because in a number of areas last season we let ourselves down.

“They were probably the difference between winning and losing in the end.”

Leadership group to step up following retirements of veteran trio

Saints must now look to write a new chapter in the post-Roby era and Wellens admitted: “Yes, there’s a change in dynamic there.

“Having been at the club for a long time, I’ve seen the playing group change and evolve but what we still have is a real core group of senior players and strong leaders who we lean on.

“But I’m certainly looking for other players within the group – homegrown and overseas – to take on more of a leadership role given the fact that Robes, Louie and Hoppa have all retired.”

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