Holbrook shows confidence in squad

A question mark hangs over the future of Alex Walmsley. NRL Photos
A question mark hangs over the future of Alex Walmsley. NRL Photos

Saints coach Justin Holbrook will be placing his faith in a familiar-looking group of players during the forthcoming Betfred Super League season.

The only new kid on the block will be former Bradford Bulls forward and 2017 Championship Young Player of the Year, James Bentley, who crosses the Pennines on a three-year deal.

No major signings are in the pipeline - and reflects the confidence shown by Holbrook in the players under his wing as Saints go into a season which marks the 10th anniversary of their last Challenge Cup success - a 28-16 triumph over Hull FC at the revamped Wembley Stadium in 2008.

“I was really happy at the way the squad finished last year and any future newcomers will come from within,”insisted Holbrook, who will oversee his first full season in charge after arriving from Australia last May.

“I expect some of the younger guys, like Matty Lees, Danny Richardson and Jack Ashworth, to be putting pressure on the senior players for a spot in the first 17 and don’t see any reason to add to my present squad.”

It may, however, be a longer haul for Bentley who Saints have brought on board more for the long haul than a quick fix.

“It’s hard to say whether he will get games during the forthcoming season but in his short time here he has already learned a great deal,” said the Aussie head coach.

“Naturally, he still has a lot more to learn and hopefully his performance will lead to him playing at Super League level at some stage in 2018.”

One player, however, nailed on to figure in most games this year is prop forward Alex Walmsley but there is a question mark over his long-term future at the club after an impressive World Cup debut in which NRL clubs took more than just a passing interest.

Without giving too much away, Hobrook said: “Alex and I have had a couple of brief chats. We’ve got him for this year at least but at the end of the day he will have to make a decision where his future lies.”

Neither did Holbrook read too much into the fact that Alex, his partner and their newly-born son travelled to Australia for the World Cup.

£A lot of the English players were accompanied by their families which I thought was good,” said the Saints’ boss

A diplomatic answer and whether Walmsley will remain a Saint, or try his luck in the lucrative NRL, is still in the lap of the Gods.

Holbrook did, however, confirm that Ben Barba will be his first choice at full back with Jonny Lomax being forced to vacate his favoured no. 1 berth and battle for a spot elsewhere in the starting line-up.

Despite some players returning late to pre-season training following their World Cup commitments all have been working hard working hard to reach the right level of fitness.

Commando-style training was a big part of Saints’ training under former coach Keiron Cunningham but Holbrook has been following a slightly different line.

He said: “We have been concentrating on a lot of ball skills which, after all, is a major and vital part of the game we play and I want to get it into the players’ heads as much as I can.

“Everyone is training well but it is no good singing the players’ praises at this time of the year.”

St Helens 2018 squad numbers: 1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dominique Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 21. Jack Ashworth, 22. Jake Spedding, 23. Ben Barba, 24. James Bentley, 25. Aaron Smith, 26. Liam Cooper, 27. Ben Morris, 28. Josh Eaves, 29. Rob Fairclough, 30. Matthew Costello.