St Helens captain Paul Wellens has been hailed as an inspiration as he prepares to equal the record for the most Super League appearances.
The 34-year-old former Great Britain full-back will draw level with record holder Keith Senior, the former Leeds centre, when he makes his 413th appearance against the Rhinos in Friday night’s table-topping clash at Langtree Park.
“I’m a big fan of Keith,” Wellens told Sky’s Boots N All programme. “I played with him at international level. He had a long and illustrious career, so I’m in good company there.”
Wellens moved into second place after helping Saints maintain their perfect start to the season with victory at Wakefield last Sunday and is now one match ahead of Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield, who was rested for his side’s home game against London Broncos last Friday but will be back on Friday to make his 412th Super League appearance.
Wellens, who needs just one point to reach 1,000 in his career, is St Helens’ longest-serving player, having made his debut in 1998, and is still leading by example, according to team-mate James Roby.
“He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Roby said. “He’s been at the top of his game for many years. He’s one of the players I looked up to as a teenager coming through the academy. You just want to follow his example.”
Wellens, who lost his full-back spot to Jonny Lomax last season, will once more be in the half-backs as the patched-up league leaders look to extend their winning run to seven matches.
With Jon Wilkin and Kyle Amor picking up suspensions and Willie Manu injured in training, Saints will be without seven first-choice players and coach Nathan Brown has added 19-year-olds Lewis Charnock and Andrew Savelio to his match-day squad, while confirming that prop Mose Masoe will make his first start for the club.
Leeds, on the other hand, are virtually at full-strength, with Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Tom Briscoe all returning after sitting out the win over the Broncos as they seek to maintain the only other unbeaten record in Super League.
Wigan are boosted by the return of skipper Sean O’Loughlin for the visit of Catalan Dragons, who got off the mark at the sixth attempt against Huddersfield last weekend.
The England loose forward, who has made only one League appearance so far this year, has been sorely missed, although the champions managed to win at Warrington without him and coach Shaun Wane is looking for his side to build on that impressive result.
“The Catalans were very aggressive against Huddersfield and they will have got some real confidence from that game,” Wane said.
“They do possess some quality in their side but, if we defend like we did against Warrington and attack with the same composure, then we will trouble Catalan.
“This is an important game for us on the back the win over Warrington. We want to start to put some performances together now.”
Hull coach Lee Radford has shaken his side up for the visit of Salford to the KC Stadium on Friday following their 7-0 home defeat by Widnes.
Radford, who called a “crisis meeting” after his side were nilled in Super League for the first time in almost three years, recalls Jamie Shaul at full-back and is set to give second rower Dean Hadley and Australian scrum-half Jacob Miller their first outings of the season.
The Red Devils, who last Sunday became the first team to beat Castleford in 2014 to end a run of three consecutive losses of their own, will have high hopes of collecting a first-ever Super League win at the KC Stadium.
Salford recorded a 22-18 Challenge Cup success at the stadium in 2009 but their last away league win over Hull was at the Boulevard in 1996, just before the arrival of Super League.
Hull’s run of 17 consecutive home wins includes an 82-6 rout in 2004.