Wellens expects Saints riposte
Captain Paul Wellens says the slate has been wiped clean as St Helens start the post-Royce Simmons era with a Grand Final re-match against Stobart Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at Langtree Park on Sunday evening.
Simmons and assistant coach Kieron Purtill paid the price for Saints’ worst-ever run in Super League and caretaker duo Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham have been given the task of getting their season back on track with what would be a first win in six matches.
Wellens admits their poor run has taken its toll on confidence, but insists the players have not lost their self-belief and a seventh successive Grand Final appearance remains a realistic target.
“Confidence is always an issue when you lose big games,” he said. “I think when you lose confidence, players become anxious, snatching at passes and trying to rush things. That’s probably what’s happened to us.
“We’ve got to use this change as a clean slate, we have to ultimately start our season again. We’ll continue to work hard. I’m just trying to encourage the boys to stay confident and back our own ability.
“I’ve no doubt that this squad can be successful this year. I think we can compete for the Challenge Cup and I think we can win the Grand Final. I’ve got that belief and I’m sure the rest of the guys have too.”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott claims his side are determined not to become distracted by the upheaval among their opponents.
“It was always going to be a big game but their run of results and the change of coach will probably add a bit of extra spice,” he said.
“We haven’t talked too much about what reaction there might be from the St Helens players. We will prepare for their best performance and know that we need to match it.”
The Rhinos, who today announced a new two-year contract for veteran forward Jamie Peacock, will give a debut to 18-year-old stand-off Stevie Ward.
“Stevie is an exciting young local talent,” said McDermott. “He has worked his way through our academy ranks and has consistently been outstanding in the Under 20s game so far this season. He deserves his shot in the first team.
“He is also a very grounded young man who is always keen to learn from those around him. I am sure he will benefit from the experience of being involved this week and take the step up to Super League in his stride.”
Leeds have lost just once since beating Saints in October’s Grand Final and victory at Langtree Park would put them seven points clear of their arch rivals.
“They’ve been playing really well,” said Wellens. “Obviously beating Manly gave them a huge lift. We have a lot of respect for Leeds and I think they have for us. We’ve had so many great games and built up such a great rivalry over the years.”
Another form team, Huddersfield Giants, will be aiming to preserve their impressive record against Hull KR.
The Giants have won seven and drawn one of their last eight meetings with the Robins since losing 42-22 in a Challenge Cup tie at Craven Park in 2008.
Widnes Vikings will be aiming to climb off the foot of the table when they host London Broncos, who have won their last seven games against the Vikings going back to 2003.
Castleford Tigers have skipper Danny Orr back for the visit of Hull FC to the Probiz Coliseum, where Black and Whites forward Danny Tickle will be aiming to score the nine points he needs to reach 2,000 in his career.
Elsewhere, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats host Catalan Dragons and Salford City Reds are the visitors to Bradford Bulls.