After speaking to opposition fans, it’s time for Saints fans to have their say ahead of 2021. We asked fans on Twitter for their thoughts on last season, recruitment and if last season’s team should go down as one of the greatest Super League teams of all time…
So we thank Lee Molton (LM), Stuart Tucker (ST), Sean (SW), Peter Elder (PE), Owen Farnworth (OF) and Alan Ball (AB) for taking the time to answer these questions.
First of all tell us a little about yourself…
LM: I have been watching Saints for over 20 years now, my first game was the last game of the 1st Super League season back in 1996 when I went along with my mate. I loved it and bought a Season Ticket the following season and I have had a Season Ticket ever since. I stand in the West Stand at the back, I enjoy standing better than sitting down. I used to go to a lot of away games but changed jobs a couple of years ago and was working long hours, I now have a new job with shorter hours so will be going to more away games when we are allowed soon.I also watch football and am a big fan of Everton. I like watching other sports like golf, tennis and snooker. I am also participating in the 2021 Steve Prescott Foundation Challenge of walking 1000 miles in 2021, I have walked over 300 miles so far. I am also studying a course in Website Development and have started to develop company websites.
ST: My name is Stuart Tucker, been following Saints for over 30 years home and away, been a season ticket holder on and off over the last few years too.
SW: 32 year old customer service advisor for British Gas, saving the world one boiler at a time, started watching Saints the year after the 19-18 Grand Final win over Bradford with a mate of mine who I played at Shaw Cross with. His family got a family ticket and he is an only child so they offered me the spare and I fell in love with Barry Ward instantly. The wonderful Kath Bell has actually been on Red Vee before and I used to travel with Kath, Kev and Jamie pretty much home and away for about 4 years.
PE: My name is Peter Elder and I’ve been following Saints for 30 years now, albeit from 200 miles away in Motherwell! I got into rugby league and Saints in particular through family on my wife’s side, her aunt is married to Derek Traynor’s older brother! My first match was the 6-16 Good Friday defeat at Knowsley Road, an inauspicious start, but I was hooked! My passion increased when the game moved to the summer era and Sky featured Super League heavily, allowing me grater access to Saints matches. I try to get to a minimum of 4 or 5 matches per year, and cannot wait to get back in that West Stand!
OF: My name is Owen Farnworth I am 16 though not for long as it is my 17th birthday the day after the forthcoming Salford game. I started watching saints properly and attending most home games in 2014. I had been to some prior to including attending the last regular season game at Knowsley Road against Castleford due to winning tickets in a school raffle, I hardly remember the game I was only 6 years old, and I never properly fell in love with the game until I got to the age of 10. My Dad is a Saints fan having grown up in the town like I have however his preferred sport is football, and he follows Liverpool wherever go as well as having me join him for most home games when there is a Spare ticket going. So, money and time has always meant my dad has only made it a few Saints games each year but when was 10 years old I became eager to go watching Saints more regularly.
In 2014 after passively going watching a few home games each season I decided I wanted to go the match more regularly and I was lucky enough that my best friend at school was also a Saints fan and he and his dad were season ticket holders, so I went with them. After seeing us win the grand final at Old Trafford that year and falling in love with the game. I got a season ticket for Christmas in 2014 for the start of the 2015 season and I have kept it ever since. At first, I sat in the North Stand though I moved to the west stand at the start of 2019. When I first got my season ticket, I just went Home games and Local away games but in 2018 as I got older my parents started to allow me to go to away games in Yorkshire and beyond on the coaches
with a group of friends I met at secondary school in Haydock. Since then, we have not looked back as a few of us got to nearly every away game apart from Catalans in 2019. Trips to Old Trafford and Wembley that season only made us enjoy it more. There are few things that are better than getting on a coach with your mates in your teens to go watching your towns’ rugby team and I am sure many reading this can relate to similar formative experiences going watching Saints when they were my age. I cannot wait to start going again in 2021 if Covid regulations allow.
AB: So, I’m Alan Ball, a lifelong Saints (and Evertonian like Dave), even if my 1st ever game was at 10 days old ‘watching’ my dad play for Barrow. His dad Joe (heritage number 572) and my mum’s granddad (I think) (306) played for Saints back in the day. When dad’s rugby career ended, we moved the length of the country to the Isle of Wight and have been there pretty much ever since . This means I don’t get to as many games as I’d like but, circumstances dependent, try and get to a couple of games a season home or away (or Wembley!!)
Sum up last season…
LM: Last season was a very strange one with the majority of it played behind closed doors. I found it very hard watching games from my living room and could not enjoy them as much or be as passionate as I would be. My favourite moment of the season was the last minute try to win the League in the Grand Final, to beat the auld enemy in the last minute to win the League was fantastic and a pity that the stadium was empty. My other highlights of this season were nilling Leeds 48-0 and Wigan 42-0, defence is very important in a season and it is so tough to nil a team.The biggest disappointment was going out of the Challenge Cup against Warrington again in a very close game. I was also disappointed not to see one of my favourite players ‘live’ again, a fellow Evertonian, James Graham.
ST: What can we say about 2020….. Champions….Again! Who’d have thought we’d be in this situation 12 months ago, that Saints would be starting a new season as Champions again.
2020 can be summed up in one word for me… fan-less, its remarkable how a crowd can have an effect on a game, Saints were quite lucky in the fact that the games they played didn’t seem to affected by lack of atmosphere, saying that can you imagine the atmosphere in the Stretford End when King Jack touched down in the 80th minute… limbs everywhere.
SW: I genuinely don’t think any sport will have a dramatic ending as Super League did in 2020 and Saints were the fortunate ones, I think the Grand Final will go down as the best game I ever watch, it sounds silly but I wouldn’t have kicked up much of a fuss if saints hadn’t won it. The Welsby moment will live long in the memory but James Bentley’s 80 minutes was just astounding and he was my man of the match.
PE: Last season was remarkable in many many ways, both in and off the field. Saints were inconsistent to start with, perhaps expectedly what with a new coach and new ideas. Post lockdown we were by and large excellent, and I was genuinely disappointed we didn’t get the LLS again. I honestly felt every player, team, official etc deserves huge credit for ensuring last season concluded, it was a magnificent effort considering all the difficulties. As for Saints… This for me ranks as one of our best titles, as it was definitely the toughest to win under the circumstances. The Grand Final was an immense spectacle, and I doubt we’ll see a more dramatic conclusion!!
OF: Last season was fantastic particularly when you consider the circumstances it was played in. We started quite poorly with only 2/5 games won if you exclude the Toronto game at Warrington. Rightly the world club challenge took over the focus at the start of the campaign and this played a part in our poor start in the league. Post Lockdown we were flawless winning 10 in a row before a young Saints side lost against Salford despite a more than valiant effort. Of course, it was a tad disappointing to not finish top and to lose to Wire in the cup but in the grand scheme of things it does not matter too much given the fact that we became champions at the end of the season. Obviously, everyone’s favourite moment including mine was Welsby’s last gasp try in the grand final made all the sweeter by the fact it was against Wigan. It was easily the best game of rugby I have ever watched like everyone I just wish fans could have been in the stadium. I go to sixth form in Wigan where I am surrounded by pie eaters so to speak so you can imagine the smirk on my face the following Monday after the game.
In terms of surprise players for me I would say its James Bentley. I have always rated Bentos as a player, but I never expected him to take Dom Peyroux’s spot as one of the starting second rowers given how consentient Dom was in the 2019 grand final winning team but credit to Bentos he has made the position his own. I am sure he will perform well in 2021 and continue to progress and become one of the best back rowers in the game.
AB: Where do you start on 2020? As a long distance fan, watching on TV (actually it was an old phone with the SkyGo app on it as I couldn’t go watch with my dad) made little difference to me, and it was just an absolute blessing to have something to look forward to watching each weekend. I feel we got very ‘lucky’ with lockdown arriving when it did, as it gave our battered and bruised heroes the opportunity to fully recover, and for the team to take on the new Boss’s instructions. Once we did start again, the lessons we had learned from the World Club Challenge game were taken on board, and we showed just why we ran the Roosters so close. Once the freshness wore off and the fixture pile up took its toll, some of the shine came off the performances, but I was still always confident we were superior to 85% of the league. So the steady march to the final was on.
Wigan in Hull….What a spectacle! Possibly the finest 79 minutes and 57 seconds of rugby between 2 old enemies, and then THAT moment. Tommy’s drop attempt, and Young Jack Welsby (official name) following up, and touching down after what seemed like an eternity of bouncing ball, and referees decision to go to the screen. Sky showing the reactions of mainly Jammer waiting, not counting any chickens. Back to the screen and T-R-Y time! The most unbelievable ending to a final and season like no other (we hope)!
Did I mention I watched it on a 5×2½” screen? Was still just as dramatic!
What are your thoughts on the recruitment and retention of the club in the off season. Is there anywhere you think we’re light?
LM: The recruitment has been very good in the off season. We have a big pack and I am looking forward to seeing Joel Thompson and Sione Mata’utia, Sione looks a big unit. Agnatius Paasi will make a big impact as well. This keeps our pack as one of the best in the League which is very important if we are to retain our title and make it 3 in a row.It is also good to get Mark Percival and Matty Lees back from injury, we did miss them last season. James Roby continues for another season, the man does not know when to call it a day – we will miss him so much when he eventually calls it a day, hopefully it will be in another couple of years
ST: We won’t quite know until games are played what our recruitment is like, but on paper these look like great additions, i don’t watch much of the NRL but after having a quick look on YouTube, these players not only look like replacements but players that will add something to the team as well, interesting to see that Passi looks like on a dry field.
SW: I think we have recruited well and they’re Woolf’s type of player which will help him massively, my only concern is that we’ve practically replaced half of our forward pack in one go and they need to hit the ground running, we lost a lot of experience in the off season and they’ll take some replacing.
PE: I’m fairly content with our recruitment into 2021, although you never really know how overseas players will adapt until they have to face a cold, wet and windy night at somewhere like Wakefield! They all have a good pedigree though, and the lad Norman looks promising, a new Walmsley potentially given his background.
OF: The recruitment and retention of the club has been quite good. We have replaced the departing Zeb Taia and Dom Peyroux with two back rowers from the NRL and added to our strength in the props with Passi and Norman. Joel Thomson has made over 200 appearances in the NRL and has a few years left in him at the age of 32 so to get him signed up for two seasons is a great signing. Sione Mata’utia is the player I am most excited to see given his pedigree becoming a regular at Newcastle and even making an appearance for Australia before he even hit his 20’s. He obviously has had a disappointing last season or two with injuries but at only 24 he has a lot the give to this Saints side and I expect him to thrive in Super League. Iggy Passi as he is known has been added to squad, I imagine he will go well given his experience in the NRL and his international exploits with Tonga. I do not know too much about Dan Norman however you would think he will occasionally come into the side given the packed fixture list and provide competition for a spot on the bench. We signed up some key players such as Percival, Knowles and Lees to long term deals last season as well as keeping hold of experienced heads like LMS and Kyle Amor for another year. So overall we have recruited well and there should be enough depth with players like Welsby, Simm, Dodd, Norman, Batchelor etc ready to come in to deal with the condensed fixtures and any injuries we may get over the course of the season.
AB: Clearly we needed some freshening up this season. Going with the same squad last year was brave, but we were so far ahead with Justin’s team it was a risk it turned out was worth taking. We couldn’t do that again though. Retaining the core of a squad that seems properly hungry for success is a good thing, having the experience of now serial winners around the club is only positive. I can’t say I know too much about the guys we have signed, but Mike Rush and the board seem to know what they are doing, so as long as we have replaced some of the presence that Luke Thompson left, and have added to the skill-set to give us other options to break the lines during those tough, tight games, I’ll be happy to reserve judgement for now.
Which of the young players or non-regular first team squad members do you think is most likely to make a name for themselves this season?
LM: Lewis Dodd could make a name for himself this season and put pressure on Theo Fages, also Jack Welsby should play a lot more too. I would also like to see Joe Batchelor play a few more games this season.
ST: 2020 could be a really big year for Aaron Smith, no matter how much anyone of us want to think about it but James Roby is coming to the end of his wonderful career, Smith will play more minutes this season and what a mentor to have, with Josh Eaves on loan at Leigh to gain further experience, Smith really can take his spot by the scruff of the neck.
SW: I’m not too sure there’ll be anyone we haven’t seen yet make a really big name for themselves. I hope Jack Welsby continues to get a chance in as many positions as possible because we’ve got 2 really good centres in Kev and Percy so it’ll be hard for him to breakthrough there. I’ll mainly be watching Aaron Smith though because as much as I hate saying it Roby is not going to last forever *wipes tear from eye*, so as much game time as possible is a must for Smith in my opinion.
PE: I think this is a big year for Lewis Dodd. He’s been talked up a fair bit, and for me he needs plenty minutes beside Jonny this year to continue his development. I’d also say that both Smith and Eaves need to put their hand up as the successor to Roby, no mean task that though! In terms of the others, I’d expect the likes of Simm, Rizzelli and Wingfield to get more opportunities too.
OF: I expect Joe Batchelor will get more minutes this season. He is 26 now and will certainly be used a lot more given the fixture list and the fact he needs to step up a bit if he is to remain at the club as he is not that young anymore as mentioned above. Aaron Smith has a big season ahead of him as well. James Roby has hinted that this season could be his last and we do not know whether Aaron Smith is ready to become Saints first team hooker when Roby hangs up his boots. This season could provide the answer as Smith will again get chances as Roby will be rested in some games to preserve the longevity of his career. Hopefully, we will find out if Smith is good enough to take the Number 9 shirt long term when James Roby does retire whenever that is. The likes of Welsby, Simm and Dodd will no doubt continue to progress as well particularly Welsby given his versatility being able to play anywhere in the backs.
AB: Hard to ignore the youngsters that started to make the step last year. Those minutes given when keeping players fresh last season for Simm, Dodd and co will be invaluable knowing that they won’t let you down when given the chance. I’d like to see even more of Joe Batchelor, and I wonder if Dan Norman is being lined up to replicate Big Alex’s style of play. Of those mentioned though, I want to see more game time for Dodd to see if he can reproduce the glimpses of excitement we got a sneaky peek at last year.
Its Leigh in and Toronto out for Super League this year. Are you disappointed to see Toronto go? Are Leigh the right choice? Who would you have picked if not Leigh?
LM: I am pleased that Leigh are in Super League next year, they are a well-run club and have a good chance of staying in the League this season. I was not disappointed to see Toronto out of Super League this year, it was never going to work having a club so far away. We need to concentrate on making Super League more attractive and sustainable in this country first. We could look at getting a new club in Cumbria and the Midlands to expand it in this country similar to other sports like football rather than just being popular in the North.
ST: I’m slightly disappointed that Toronto are no longer in Super League as this would have been an away day and a half, but it didn’t seem set up for them to be in Super League, nothing against Leigh but they’ve been in Super League before so I would have liked for a club who hasn’t been in before to have their chance for me.. Featherstone, a rich history in Rugby, or York, a new stadium and the foundations of something great.
SW: Massively disappointed Toronto weren’t given a fair chance, I think they’d have got much better with some home games and shown their worth to the league and the game. We’ve got such an exciting sport but when 90% of the teams can walk to an away game that has to say something. I wouldn’t have replaced them at all this year I would have reduced league games and given Shaun Wane a few England games to help prepare for the World Cup. In don’t think any team coming up improves the game in anyway.
PE: The Toronto experiment was an unqualified disaster, and there’s no way the should’ve retained their Super League spot. It was doomed to failure from the off, given the time and cost involved in travel for everyone, simply not feasible long term. I’d rather see Super League and the RFL help to support the development of overseas leagues rather than parachute in a random side from anywhere on the globe, makes no sense. Leigh are probably the best side to fill that void, as they have everything in place structure-wise to at least make a decent fist of this year.
OF: I am disappointed to see Toronto go. It is always disappointing to see expansion teams not work out. Covid has obviously played in the reason they were kicked out of the league with players and staffs wages apparently not being paid during lockdown. Despite the fact the club did not deal with lockdown well it had a strong fan base out in Canada with lots of people turning up to games when they played games in Toronto so in that sense the expansion was not failing so it is disappointing to see them go as there is now an interest in Rugby League amongst some people in Toronto and now, they do not have a team anymore.
Leigh is a sensible pick to replace them given the situation with Covid. leigh does belong to the M62 corridor that the game needs to branch out of, but they have a good modern stadium and an established fanbase in the town. They bring something to the league with a local derby against Wigan sure to make the competition a bit more interesting for some, but then again it does not expand the profile of the game outside the heartlands.
AB: Logistically, Leigh are a much better fit. Commercially, Super League needed Toronto. It was a unique selling point that very few other sports could offer. It also brought different money, and a new audience to our game which long term is needed. Under the current circumstances, Toronto just isn’t viable hich is a shame. Only time will tell if Leigh are the right choice, but it if it was me making the choice, I’d have liked Featherstone as a completely new face, given a chance. Personally, i was convinced that Bradford were gonna be given the helping hand back into the big time.
What’s the minimum expectation for this to be a successful season for Saints?
LM: The minimum expectation this season for the Saints is to finish in the Top 2 and win a trophy I think. It has been far too long for the Challenge Cup to come back to St Helens and we can give it a really good go again this season.
ST: A club like St Helens has to win a least one trophy on offer in the season, after two Grand Final wins on the bounce, nothing short of a Challenge Cup Final win at least would suffice.
SW: Minimum expectation should be 2 trophies, I’d like to see us win the challenge cup but 3 super league’s in a row should be the aim, I can’t stand Leeds being the only ones to do it.
PE: Anything other than top 3 would be a failure for me, unless Saints are hit by an injury crisis of course! It’s also about time the Challenge Cup resided in the TWS trophy cabinet, can believe its been 13 years since we won it, and the final 2 years ago really hurt, really really hurt. Time to rectify that.
OF: A top-two finish guaranteeing a home semi-final and once piece of silverware whether that be the Super League, or the Challenge Cup is the minimum expectation for me with the players we have at our disposal. Personally, I would love a cup run and a trip to Wembley given that a generation of Saints fans including myself have no memory of when we last won the cup in 2008 because we were far too young or even worse not alive, so I want us to make a good fist of that this season. I expect us to finish in the top-two and get a home semi in the Super League which should mean we make it to another Grand Final but knockout games can be unpredictable it really is about who turns up on the day.
AB: A (major) trophy. It will be even harder this year to retain the title. Everyone wants to beat the Champions. But now we’re back-to-back Champions, that target will be even bigger! I can see us putting the Challenge Cup hoodoo to bed, and I will be happy to be wrong, but I’d guess semi finals for the League.
LM: I think the Top 6 this season will be St Helens, Wigan, Leeds, Warrington, Hull and Castleford. The Grand Final will be between St Helens and Leeds with Saints being Champions again.The Challenge Cup will be won by either ourselves or Leeds, I think Leeds will have a better season this year. Finally, the Wooden Spoon will be close between Salford, Hull KR and Leigh but I am going to go for Hull KR.
ST: Top 6 – Saints, W***n, Warrington, Castleford, Salford, Huddersfield; Grand Finalists – Saints v W***n; Champions – Saints; Challenge Cup Winners – oh sod it… Saints; Wooden Spoon – Leigh
SW: Top 6 – Saints, Wigan, Huddersfield, Leeds, Hull FC, Warrington but not in that order; Grand Finalists – Saints Wigan; Champions – Saints; Challenge Cup Winners – Wigan; Wooden Spoon – Leigh
PE: Top 6 – Wigan, Saints, Warrington, Leeds, Hull, Huddersfield; Grand Final – Wigan v Saints; Champions – Wigan (hope I’m wrong!!); Challenge Cup – Saints; Wooden Spoon – Leigh
OF: Top 6 – 1. Saints 2. Wigan 3. Warrington 4. Huddersfield 5. Hull 6. Castleford; Grand Finalists – Saints and Warrington; Champions- Saints; Challenge cup- Saints; Wooden spoon- Leigh
AB: Top 6 – Saints, Huddersfield, Hull, Warrington, Wigan, Leeds; Grand Final – Wigan and Warrington; Champions – Warrington. It’s always their year right?; Challenge Cup – Saints; Wooden Spoon – as much as they will provide adequate competition, I can’t look past Leigh but Wakefield would be dark horses.
If you could change just one thing about Rugby League and it would happen immediately – what would it be?
LM: Make the season finish on points standings and not average points – this is a crazy idea and does not encourage team to fulfil all of their fixtures. Hopefully, as we get into the summer the situation will have improved significantly and we can get back to watching all games played in Super League. It doesn’t happen in other sports so Rugby League should not be considering it for this season.
ST: Marketing! The sport isn’t marketed correctly, for such a wonderful product this should be advertised on TV, newspapers, towns, cities, social media outlets… the last 30 seconds of the 2020 Grand Final should be used as a marketing tool
SW: I’d make about 50 changes to the way the game is run but rule wise I’d get rid of the on field decision and bring back benefit of the doubt.
PE: The change I’d make would be less changes!! We seem to come up with new structures, new ideas on expansion etc every year. Let’s build on what we have, help the smaller clubs in the heartlands grow so that the whole British game is stronger.
OF: There are many things that frustrate me about the game but since it has been in the news over the last week with the announcement of the England vs All-stars for June, I will go with the fact I would like International RL to be taken more seriously. The fact there is a Super League round of fixtures the weekend of the game is frankly ridiculous. I would buy tickets for the international game if Saints did not have fixture that weekend but because they do I will not and I am sure many Super League fans will think the same way. The decision to have a Super League round clash with the international game has certainly turned off a considerable number of the people who would have watched/attended the game depending on Covid regulations.
AB: If you asked me this during the season, or after a game, I’d give you very different answers. Either taking away the try/no try decision when sending it up to the video ref. Might as well just give it at that point. Or the different rules between SL and NRL. The laws of most sports, but in particular the most successful/popular, are universally the same all over the world to provide less confusion!
We’re back to back champions for the first time since 2000 – does this make this one of the all time great Super League teams and one of the all time great Saints teams? Or does a Covid ravaged season change your outlook on it?
LM: Winning back to back titles makes this one of the all time great Super League teams, regardless of the situation with Covid last season. I still think the 2006 team is better than this team but there is not too much in it. We were top of the table for the majority of the season and were only just pipped right at the end from finishing top by our neighbours Wigan.
ST: The 2019-2020 team is up there with the 1999-2000 and 2006 teams, to push on and be classed as literally one of the greats then a Challenge Cup and another Super League Trophy need to be added, last seasons ‘covid season’ doesn’t change my opinion of it still being a tough season, playing midweek games on top of regular weekend games and the travelling made this a tougher competition to win….. lets hope we win one more.
SW: I think the 2019 team was better than the 2020 team, Justin Holbrook did a phenomenal job in pretty much every department. I think the Covid break did us a massive favour as Woolf’s style took some getting used to, for me this year is the most important going 3 in a row will put them up there with the 06 team.
PE: I’m wouldn’t say that this Saints side is the best we’ve had in Super League, although if we’d win at Wembley 2 years ago the Holbrook team would have rivalled the 2006 vintage for me. That’s still the side that every Saints team has to aspire to in my view. It’s still a brilliant achievement to go back to back, and the Grand Final last year will take some beating! Can we do a three-peat?!! Maybe…
OF: The 2020 side was almost the same side in terms of playing personnel that in 2019 finished an incredible 16 points clear of 2nd In 2019 and won and finally won a Grand Final to became Champions showing themselves to be completely superior to every other side in the comp. Yes, we were not as prolific during the regular season in 2020 and didn’t finish top but that is understandable with Covid and Woolf adjusting to life as Saints coach. So, to back it up and be Champions twice in a row despite the challenges of Covid is an incredible achievement and makes this side one of the best in Super League history If they already weren’t after what they did in 2019. Furthermore, this team has the capability to go even further with a full pre-season behind them I have every confidence they will be picking up some of the silverware on offer at the end of the season if not all of it.
AB: Overcoming all the obstacles that were in everyone’s way last time out, and coming out on top certainly doesn’t diminish the achievement. It might make us a highly consistent squad, but I’m not sure how well they would compare to prime 2006 Saints as a team. Make it 3 in a row and then we can have a discussion!