Nathan Brown has told his players to “set down a marker” for the rest of the season when they face Warrington in tomorrow’s season opener.
The two sides meet at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium with Saints giving new scrum-half Luke Walsh the fiercest of Super League debuts.
Walsh is likely to be partnered in the halves by Jordan Turner with Brown backing the pair to become a formidable force for Saints during the campaign.
Saints have also named young centre Mark Percival in the squad to face the Wire but they are missing new props Mose Masoe and Richard Beaumont.
And head coach Brown is predicting the game will be a “cracking encounter” in front of a near capacity crowd and beamed far and wide by Sky TV cameras.
“Saints v Warrington games always seem to bring the best out of both sides and I don’t expect this will be any different,” said Brown.
St Helens won the corresponding fixture 22-10 last season, only to lose 48-22 to their neighbours during the Magic Weekend clash at the Etihad Stadium and then suffered a 29-16 defeat at Langtree Park.
But past results will count for nothing as two clubs, already tipped to be among the honours in 2014 and having recruited wisely, will want to put down a marker for the rest of the campaign.
“From my point of view, I feeI I have a much better balanced squad than 12 months ago,” said Brown.
“We have recruited a couple of big guys up front, including 20 stone Samona prop Mose Masoe, and also signed a genuine half back in Luke Walsh and they will go a long to complementing the likes of full back Jonny Lomax and hooker James Roby.”
However, the Saints supremo will be without man mountain Masoe for the first three of four rounds of the competition as he recovers from ankle surgery and fellow pop Richard Beamount, who is suffering with a groin problem.
Brown also hinted that he could find a regular spot for 24-year-old Gary Wheeler who has shown impressive form during the pre-season build-up.
Wheeler, who is equally at home in the three quarter line or at half back, has only made 52 appearances at senior level since making his debut against the London Skolars in 2008, but has been plagued by injuries during the past couple of seasons.
“Gary is a real talent and hopefully things will work out better for him this season, he deserves a break,” said Brown.
Whatever 17 he pencils-in for the opening fixture, the Aussie boss knows he will have to contend with some unhappy faces in the camp
He declared: “One or two of our youngsters, who have shown a great deal of improvement over the past year and have already tasted life at Super League level, may feel they are entitled to play and some of our more experienced players probably feel the same but a few at either end of the age group are going to be unlucky.”
The full squad for Thursday is:
1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Josh Jones, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Luke Walsh, 9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Sia Soliola, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Willie Manu, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 16. Kyle Amor, 17. Paul Wellens, 18. Alex Walmsley, 22. Mark Percival, 24. Gary Wheeler, 27. Greg Richards.
Warrington’s Tony Smith’s squad is:
2. Chris Riley, 3. Chris Bridge, 4. Ryan Atkins, 5. Joel Monaghan, 6. Stefan Ratchford, 7. Richie Myler, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Micky Higham, 10. Roy Asotasi, 11. Trent Waterhouse, 12. Ben Westwood, 14. Michael Monaghan, 17. Ben Currie, 19. Anthony England, 20. Gareth O’Brien, 21. Glenn Riley, 22. Brad Dwyer, 23. James Laithwaite, 25. Ben Evans.