ANY fears that the absence of new head coach Royce Simmons, who had to jet home to Australia at the weekend to be at the bedside of his sick father, will be a major blow to Saints’ preparations for their mouth-watering Millennium Magic clash with Wigan Warriors on Saturday night were allayed yesterday.
Simmons had to jet home to Australia at the weekend to be at the bedside of his sock father.
Assistant boss Kieron Purtill said: “We are expecting Royce to return to this country on Thursday and during his time away he will only miss a couple of 90 minute training sessions.
“We, as a club, are obviously thinking about him and his family at this moment in time, but in a sense we have been a little lucky that most of our preparation and planning had already been put in place before he went home and we were not faced with a seven-day turn around between fixtures.
“It is now a case of fine-tuning and getting through the practice sessions in the next few days.”
Saints, who haven’t lost to their near neighbours in three previous meetings at the Millennium Stadium, are expected to field a near full strength side - only new Aussie prop forward Josh Perry will be missing through injury.
Scrum half Kyle Eastmond, who underwent ankle surgery at the end of last season, is fit and rarin’ to go and both stand off Leon Pryce and prop Louie McCarthy- Scarsbrook have shrugged off minor injuries.
Whether Eastmond starts is still open to question, but Purtill said: “Kyle played for 30 minutes against Huddersfield in our second pre-season friendly and came through without any reaction from his operation.
“He has been buzzing in training over the past two or three weeks and really looking forward to getting a full game under his belt.
“The specialist has declared him fully fit and if everything goes well in training for the rest of this week we will definitely be looking at starting him on Saturday.”
Gary Wheeler, who scored three tries in the club’s two pre-season friendlies in the centre role, is expected to
keep his place.
Purtill said: “Gary is one of a number of players who needs to stay injury-free and get a run of consecutive games under his belt.
“He knows where the try line is and causes teams problems.”
Simmons’ no. 2 added: “Generally, we are really excited by the blend of the team we possess this year and are itching to get out on the field and show what we can do.”
Joint skipper Paul Wellens, who will be embarking on his 14th season as a first team player, is relishing the prospects of a rip-roaring opening day challenge.
Wellens said: “We couldn’t have handpicked a more difficult start but all the lads are looking forward to the challenge.
“We will be going into the game as underdogs for once and this should, so to speak, take a great deal of pressure off our shoulders.”
TICKET sales for Millennium Magic have been strong through the year and with less than a week to go are running at 40 per cent higher than last year when seven matches were staged at Murrayfield, Edinburgh.
Saints’ fans still have time to purchase their passes and don’t forget season ticket holders can save 50 per cent season on the price.
Further details are available by telephoning 01744 455052, or by visiting the club’s town centre store.
The weekend fixtures are – Saturday: Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves (1pm), Catalans Dragons v Harlequins RL (3pm), Castleford Tigers v Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (5pm), Saints v Wigan Warriors (7pm).
Sunday: Crusaders v Salford City Reds (noon), Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos (2pm), Hull FC v Hull KR (4pm).