Yates' view: St Helens will learn lessons as they look towards 2019
The current Super League season may only just have finished but thoughts at all clubs will be turning to what lies ahead in 2019 - and already Sky Bet are quoting odds on who will finish top dogs.
The Super League sponsor named St Helens as 3-1 favourites, Warrington Wolves 7-2 and Wigan Warriors 5-1.
It may come as a surprise to some fans to see holders Wigan third in the pecking order but while it is early days I think the bookmakers are taking into consideration the exit of several players from the Warriors, including John Bateman, Ryan Sutton and Sam Tomkins, and more importantly the decision of highly successful head coach Shaun Wane to take up a fresh appointment with the Scottish Rugby Union set-up.
Wane has spent the best part of a lifetime with his home-town club as a player, scout, no. 2 and eventually supremo, bringing through a multitude of successful young players - a point not lost on former St Helens prop James Graham, who was a studio guest of Sky TV during the Grand Final.
The 33-year-old St George Illawarra star told viewers: “I think Wigan’s success is based of having a lot of local lads representing their home town club.
“It means a great deal to them but hasn’t happened overnight and the people who put these plans into operation deserve to be applauded.
“They have gone with youth and while also recruiting from overseas, the present team revolves around Wigan lads playing for Wigan.”
It’s a similar policy to the one adopted by Saints who can possibly step into their arch-rivals boots next season, building on the young local talent emerging at the Totally Wicked Stadium to play along the more experienced players, such as James Roby, Jonny Lomax and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, and the new boys, Scotland international Lachlan Coote, Fiji skipper Kevin Naiqama, Samoan international Joseph Paulo and the promising Joe Bachelor from York City Knights.
Yes, they have lost the influential Ben Barba to the NRL and waved goodbye to the vastly experienced Jon Wilkin and Matty Smith but wlil be given a major boost by the return to full fitness of Alex Walmsley who will form an awesome-looking partnertship with fellow prop Luke Thompson.
Walmsley only played five times during 2018 after suffering a broken bone in his neck at Warrington in March and had been hoping to replicate his outstanding performances for England in the World Cup.
It might be a matter of conjecture but had he not missed so many fixtures the two major pieces of silverware could now be adorning the Totally Wiicked Stadium trophy room.
In the meantime, Saints will need to build on what they achieved in 2018 under the guidance of head coach Justin Holbrook - something most of their rivals can only dream about.
It must also be remembered that Holbrook, who joined Saints in May last year, had no previous experience as top man - either Down Under or in this country - and in the circumstances his record to date cannot be sneezed at.
Clinching the League Leaders’ Shield by six points from Wigan, which included 24 wins, and reaching the semi-final stage of both the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and the last four in the play-offs for the second year in succession can hardly be described as a poor season by any stretch of the imagination.
But Saints’ fans are a demanding bunch and don’t like settling for minor honours.
Holbrook knows this and he, too, will be building on the lesson he learned during the past season - and hopefully delivering at least one of ther major prizes on offer.