Hohaia explains Saints revival
New Zealand international Lance Hohaia has revealed it took some soul-searching by the St Helens players to turn around the club’s fortunes following the early-season sacking of head coach Royce Simmons.
Hohaia was recruited by Simmons from New Zealand Warriors 12 months ago in an effort to turn Saints into winners following five successive Grand Final losses.
However, a return to Old Trafford seemed a distant prospect two months into the 2012 season when the team found themselves out of the top eight.
Simmons paid the price for the team’s dismal start in which they won just two of their first seven matches and Hohaia reveals the players took his sacking to heart.
“There was a lot of soul-searching,” he said. “When Royce left, I think we all looked at ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘How can we be doing better?’.
“As a group we really stuck tight. Obviously the fans were a little unhappy and people were writing us off and all those things can spur you on to do well as well.”
Saints have not looked back since making the change and, under caretaker coaches Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham, lost just four more matches to finish third, rounding off the regular season with a 26-18 win at table-topping Wigan Warriors.
Their impressive form continued with a 28-6 win at Warrington in the opening round of the play-offs, and Hohaia is hoping Saints can maintain their momentum when they take on the Wolves in tomorrow evening’s second semi-final at Langtree Park for a place at Old Trafford for the seventh consecutive year.
“Two months in, it couldn’t have been further away for us but it just goes to show it’s a long season and so many things can happen,” Hohaia added.
“Since that day we’ve really chipped away at improving as players and as a team, and I think we’re at the stage now where we’ve got some confidence and are playing some good footy.
“Hopefully that will help us this weekend. We beat Wigan away and we beat Warrington away and they’ve been the top sides all year so it’s a good place to be.”
St Helens’ impressive run began following Hohaia’s move to stand-off after he had deputised at full-back and hooker in the early games for injured duo Paul Wellens and James Roby, and he has been delighted with his partnership with local youngster Jonny Lomax.
“One of the main reasons I came here was because they offered me the chance to play in the halves,” Hohaia said.
“It was something I didn’t really get to do in the NRL. I’m very thankful to Rushy and Keiron for having the faith in me to settle in and get my game right.
“I’m at the stage now where I feel comfortable within the team and I think I’m improving my game as well.
“I hadn’t played five-eighth for about four or five years so I’m pretty happy with how it’s progressing.
“Jonny is a great athlete and a smart kid who works hard and he knows what he wants. I’ve got a lot of time for Jonny. We seem to be forming a good partnership.”
Saints are set to welcome back second-rower Chris Flannery, who has been sidelined for a month with a calf injury, while Warrington are boosted by the return of England prop Garreth Carvell and Man of Steel contender Ben Westwood.
The double-chasing Wolves have won at Langtree Park already this year and will be confident of going one step further than last year by reaching their maiden Grand Final.
“I think the teams are evenly matched,” said Warrington coach Tony Smith. “Both have been very consistent this year and it really comes down to who performs on the day.”