Dave Craven: Saints already looking ready to go marching in once more

Saints coach Nathan Brown
Saints coach Nathan Brown
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THERE was a lot of rhetoric about this being St Helens’ year and I could certainly see the logic.

With astute ex-Huddersfield Giants coach Nathan Brown now settled in, the capture of an actual proper half-back in the shape of Luke Walsh and the prospect of Jonny Lomax fulfilling his undeniable talent as their No 1, it all combined to make it a sound judgment.

There was a sneaky feeling, however, I might just have been taken in by the superior knowledge of some knowing RL folk and it might all be folly.

What about the loss of all that experience and talent, namely the long-serving Samoan duo of Tony Puletua and Francis Meli, who have operated so consistently up front and out wide for them for so many years?

Not only that but think, too, about the not inconsiderable loss of gnarled NRL veteran prop Josh Perry and, suddenly, all it needed was Walsh to suffer one of those Australian tendencies – “home-sickness” – and it could all so easily be another campaign of mediocrity. Yet there they go, with that utter destruction of Warrington Wolves on Thursday night, and you start thinking maybe there is real reasoning behind the argument the Saints could march on once more.

For all it will be refreshing to see an outsider shake up Super League this term, those well-backed Salford Red Devils being the obvious contenders to fulfil that task, it would also be reassuring to see St Helens challenge again, too.

It is hard to put a finger on why, as such, but a healthy Saints tends to indicate a healthy Super League and they have been away from the top table too long.

It seems absurd they have not won a trophy since the 2008 Challenge Cup but, paradoxically, five successive Grand Final defeats from 2007 means they have never been too far away from the public consciousness.

Leeds Rhinos (four times) and Wigan Warriors cruelly combined to leave a legacy of painful Old Trafford memories.

But, perhaps, the fact so many of those who endured heartache – noticeably luckless Australians Matt Gidley and Chris Flannery – have since moved on helped create this fresh canvas.

Admittedly, Jon Wilkin, Paul Wellens and James Roby remain, but each of those decorated performers, in their different ways, will only enhance Saints’ hopes of recovering their previous lustre.

Walsh instantly took to Super League the other night with a controlling performance that shouted Saints have, finally, discovered Sean Long’s replacement. It is a big call to make after just 80 minutes but he oozed class and it is clear to see why the Merseyside club’s hierarchy were so intent on securing his signature.

Lomax showed his increasing maturity while any pack containing such explosive talents as Alex Walmsley, Willie Manu, Sia Soliola and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, plus Kyle Amor, from Wakefield, will cause carnage.

Heaven help Super League when human wrecking-ball Mose Masoe is fit, too. Saints have gone big in a massive way.

Yet, perhaps most encouraging, was that such an unheralded backline as one including two 20-year-olds in Josh Jones and Adam Swift – and the always watchable Gary Wheeler – could show such authority versus such a garlanded side as Warrington.

Admittedly, their hosts are a team in transition themselves after the loss of influential trio Adrian Morley, Lee Briers and Brett Hodgson.

But Saints delivered a signal of their own intent. Having seen them so erratic and bewildered in Brown’s first game in charge against Huddersfield 12 months ago, the contrast is striking; the canny Australian has a team that is now clearly in his own mould.

Super League has been put on notice – Saints are ready to truly mix it up again.