Wilkin’s Magnifico, Wilkin’s Fantastico
Saints fans could be forgiven for wondering how our pack would cope in the absence of the superb Alex Walmsley, especially at Craven Park which hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds in recent seasons. There’s been plenty of ‘Fantasy Rugby League’ talk about who could come in to cover, despite RL being a salary capped sport, and about who could make way. While I’m no Rugby League administrator, I’d imagine it’s very difficult to balance the salary cap.
With Saints having 6 other props on the books (Amor, Douglas, LMS, Thompson, Lees and Ashworth according to Justin Holbrook) it’s unsurprising that the Head Coach has, for now, distanced himself from bringing in reinforcements. I could also write the script that should someone like Matty Smith be shipped out to make room on the cap, we’d immediately have a crisis at half back. It’s Murphy’s Law.
You also have to look at the contract situation, with the majority of those props contracted to at least the end of next season I find it difficult to envisage another coming in, unless an established forward goes out. There have also been one or two mutterings about how players will have to change their game into a Walmsley style, but again this is fantasy stuff. How can you make an experienced prop play like someone else? It just doesn’t work like that.
As it was, after last weeks’ disappointing showing against Leeds, the whole pack stood up to be counted. Justin Holbrook was quoted after the game commending his front row options, but the most pleasing aspect of the game was that the second rowers put in excellent shifts to assist their prop forward colleagues.
Starting with the front row, Luke Douglas and Kyle Amor showed glimpses of why they are Saints players with strong runs into the Hull KR defenders. On Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s introduction he bounced a would-be tackler off and made good metres. Add to that the good form of Luke Thompson who stretched over for the opening try and the signs were promising. I know people will point towards Hull KR regularly losing bodies, but you can only play what’s in front of you and it was a good hit out before the arrival of the old enemy to the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday.
However, as mentioned, the back row chipped in with some solid performances. We’ve missed the strong defence of Morgan Knowles for the past 4 weeks and he didn’t disappoint when introduced to the field. Zeb Taia showed he’s in fine form with a great performance, including an assist with an inside ball to set up Ben Barba’s second try, and the rejuvenated Dom Peyroux capped a strong showing with a great jinking run to get him off the mark for the season. In fact several times the Dominator found himself one on one with man mountain Mose Masoe (one of Hull KR’s better performers) and successfully stopped him. But star of the show for me was former captain, Jon Wilkin.
Wilkin got back to playing as an out and out second row this week and he looked in superb nick. After having his wrists slapped for trying to do too much against Leeds, his direct running (with no better example that in the lead up to Saints opening try) and link up play was back to the Jon Wilkin of old. Saints will be all the better for performances like that from the veteran loose forward.
Jonny To The Max
Last week I mentioned that Jonny Lomax didn’t have his greatest game in a Saints shirt, but that he deserved his chance to put things right. I’m happy to say that Lomax did exactly that even if, for the majority of the game, this was at the unfamiliar position of right centre.
After the departure of Adam Swift through injury, the Saints back line was reshuffled to accommodate Theo Fages at stand off and Tommy Makinson went out to his usual position on the right wing. Lomax didn’t disappoint, showing his versatility to such effect you’d think that was his usual position. The fact he capped his performance with a great support play try when Makinson managed to get the ball inside to him before being bundled into touch shows just how much of an asset Lomax is to the club.
It’s intriguing to think of how Justin Holbrook will overcome the Swift injury for Friday and if Ryan Morgan will slot back in, with Lomax heading back to stand off, or if the plan will be to keep Lomax in the centres purely due to Morgan’s lack of match fitness.
Good Friday Sell Out
It’s fantastic to hear that the club has put up the ‘Sold Out’ signs before the traditional Good Friday clash with Wigan. It’s a credit to the coaching, the players and the recruitment of Ben Barba that the town has got behind the team and will be packing out the Totally Wicked Stadium. Hopefully the team can show the town that there’s a better brand of rugby on offer than in recent seasons, and also come away with a win over the old enemy. It would be great if the average attendance could grow on the back of this game – the club has been active in the community making it feel like the fans are involved, and what better way to pay back their efforts than a few more speccys attending on a Friday night.
If Good Friday isn’t enough for you, it’s worth noting that the Saints under 19s and under 16s are in action on Easter Saturday at Blackbrook Rugby Club. The under 19s play the mini derby against Wigan with an 11am kick off and the under 16s face Castleford with a 2.30pm kick off. Admission is £2, which gets you access to both games. So why not get down to Boardmans Lane and show your support, not only to the future of St. Helens RFC, but to Blackbrook too. As mentioned on last weeks’ WA12 Rugby League Show (live on Mondays 6pm – 8pm @ WA12radio.net, catch up on Mixcloud) Brook’s Open Age Team are waiting to find out if they’ll be accepted into the league system, so fingers crossed on news from them soon