St Helens exclusive: Tommy Makinson on moving on from four-peat, finding new motivation and chasing success

John Davidson
Tommy Makinson St Helens Alamy

Tommy Makinson in action for St Helens in 2023 - Alamy

Tommy Makinson has admitted 2023 was a tough year for St Helens with motivation hard to find, but insists the Saints are raring to go this season with the pressure lifted off them.

St Helens were gunning for a record fifth Super League title in a row after a historic defeat of Penrith Panthers in Sydney in February in the World Club Challenge.

But the Merseyside club bowed out of the Challenge Cup semi-finals in a tight loss to Leigh Leopards and then missed out on a Grand Final spot after a last-minute defeat in the semi-finals at the hands of Catalans Dragons.

Veteran winger Makinson has opened up about last season and states his team have now fully moved on from the heady heights of their famous four-in-a-row run, as they get ready for the new campaign.

You hear the cliché a lot in sport, the rollercoaster, but that was literally our season last year,” Makinson told Love Rugby League.

We were on such a high and then such a low in that mid-year. It’s such a tough sport and then to get yourself up for the possible five in a row, after we suffered that semi-final defeat in the Challenge Cup.

“That proper hurt, it stung. And then another semi-final at the back end of the year. It was a tough year for everyone involved with the club.

“We’d been on such a rollercoaster, a high and then it came down to a level now where we’re all embracing it, we’re all enjoying that that sort of pressure has been lifted off our shoulders this year.

“Now we’re not being chased, we’re going into this season fresh. Wigan are the winners, Leigh are the Challenge Cup holders, so we’ve got something to chase.

“We want it back this year, so it’s a real fresh mentality this year.”

Heading into 2024 without retired club stalwarts James Roby and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook

James Roby and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook have retired from Saints, with the club bringing in Daryl Clark and Matt Whitley.

Even without the talismanic Roby, Makinson believes it is slightly disrespectful to think the Red V cannot challenge for trophies this year with the roster at their disposal.

“We’ve got so many good players everywhere,” he said.

“James Roby’s one of the best in his position but we’ve signed, probably the country’s next best 9 after James Roby. So we’re all excited.

“That’s the beauty of this club, we all know our jobs, we don’t listen to outside noise that much. Obviously you hear snippets but that’s disrespectful. Losing James would be big for any team, for our club, for the league, but like we’ve lost Paul Wellens, we lost Keiron Cunningham, we’ve lost these legends, that’s just sport and you move on.

“And what better way to move on and go and win it again.”

Finding new motivation after famous four in a row run comes to an end

St Helens started their magical run with a defeat of Salford Red Devils at Old Trafford in 2019. The backed it up with Grand Final wins over Wigan in 2020, Catalans in 2021 and then Leeds in 2022.

Makinson understands the fine margins between success and failure involved in high-level sport.

“It’s such fine margins and you can probably say look at the Grand Finals we’ve won,” the 32-year-old admitted.

“You go back and replay them and we might not have won four in a row. The bounce of a ball against Wigan in 2020, Catalans was two points. We’re grateful for winning four in a row but that’s gone now.

“It feels like that chapters closed almost. It feels like if you win five in a row, six in a row, where would that have ever ended? It just feels this year we can go and rip in and we’re all excited again.

“Motivation was tough last year after coming back from such a high in Australia, it was difficult on a personal level. It was a hard year but we’re excited this year.”

Tommy Makinson not thinking about retirement: ‘I’ve got so much more playing to do’

Tommy Makinson England Alamy Tommy Makinson in action for England in 2023 – Alamy

Makinson turns 33 later this year and is entering his 14th year as a professional, after debuting for St Helens in 2011.

The England international feels he has still has three to four good years left in his playing career and is not contemplating retirement.

“I’ve got a few things lined up, but I’ve got so much more playing to do,” he said.

“I missed a few years playing, so I feel like it’s done me a favour. I don’t feel like I’ve slowed down at all, I still feel really, really good.

“I still feel I’m one of the top wingers in the game. Planning-wise for retirement I’ve got a lot in the pipeline but I’m certainly not taking my eye off the next couple of years.

“I’m really excited, I feel like I can achieve more for this club. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead in the near distant future.”

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