New St Helens coach Kristian Woolf wants to 'play an attacking brand of footy'

Kristian Woolf
Kristian Woolf

New St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf is hoping Tonga's success will rub off onto the Super League champions.

Speaking at his first press conference since succeeding Justin Holbrook, Woolf says the Saints players will be encouraged to play attacking rugby, just as the Pacific Islanders have done to great effect.

Woolf has taken Tonga from 14th in the world rankings on his appointment in 2014 to fourth and they are now breathing down the necks of England following their recent wins over Great Britain and Australia.

"Players will be given free rein to express themselves," he said. "I'm very aware of the history of the club and that the history is an attacking style of rugby league.

"That's exactly what we'll continue to do. I think the best example I can give you is the way we've gone about things with Tonga.

"It's very obvious for everyone to see that the Tongan players have a free rein to attack and in particular to use their skill level which is around a lot of second-phase play and offload.

"That is what worked really well for us against Great Britain and it worked really well against Australia.

"The approach will be similar here in allowing players to play to their strengths and play an attacking brand of footy."

The 44-year-old, who has taken up a two-year contract, plans to continue as Tonga coach but insists it will not interfere with his Saints job and no decision has been made on whether he will be involved in the mid-season international programme in 2020.

"I've had numerous conversations with the club about that," he said.

"There's an expectation here that we perform at a certain level and any involvement with Tonga can't interfere with that.

"That June Test is certainly something we'll have to have a look at but at the end of the year it doesn't interfere with at all and it's something I want to remain involved with."

St Helens are the only club without a new signing for 2020 and Woolf says he is happy with the current squad.

"At the moment I'm very happy with the squad we've got and, if at some stage we think we need to add to the squad, then we can see if that's a possibility but I think we've got a squad that can be better than we were in 2019," he said.

"We need to find ways to be better and, if we do that, we'll be hard to beat."

Woolf, who has worked as an assistant at North Queensland, Brisbane and Newcastle, does not believe Great Britain's dismal tour of New Zealand Papua New Guinea is a reflection of the playing standards of Super League, insisting it compares well with the NRL.

"I don't think Great Britain not performing has anything to do with the competition here in terms of the standard," he said.

"I certainly don't think a standard of the competition should be judged on one series.

"I've obviously watched a lot of Super League and I think it's a very good standard.

"It's a little bit different but I think the standards are very similar, in particular when the top teams are going at each other."

Saints will have a chance to pit themselves against NRL's finest when they play Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge at the Totally Wicked Stadium on February 22.

"The Roosters have been the benchmark in the NRL for the last couple of years so it's a terrific opportunity to show where we do sit on the world scale," Woolf said.

Saints will begin their title defence against Grand Final runners-up Salford on January 31 and could also play their first trial match against the Red Devils in a ground-breaking double-header in Valencia on January 11.

Saints chief executive Mike Rush said: "We're still in discussions but at this stage nothing has been agreed. If they put a proposal to us, we will make a decision."