SAINTS coach Keiron Cunningham is confident of gaining a reaction from his misfiring players when they get the 2016 Dacia World Club Series under way against Sydney Roosters at Langtree Park.
While the cream of Super League have a chance to compare themselves with their NRL counterparts, the Australians are clear favourites to complete another whitewash following their 3-0 triumph in the inaugural series 12 months ago.
That included a record 39-0 defeat for Saints at the hands of actor Russell Crowe’s South Sydney in the World Club Challenge, but Cunningham insists that humiliating experience will not form part of his pre-match talk.
“Everybody likes to talk about revenge but, for one thing, it’s against the wrong team and secondly we go out to try and play as hard as we can every week,” he said.
After being centre stage last year, Saints were only invited to take part this time because Leeds’ success in completing the treble created a vacancy that the Rugby Football League was left to fill.
Cunningham is delighted his club have been given that opportunity but he is more concerned about his players responding to last week’s shock 56-12 hammering by Salford, which the former Saints hooker took personally after sensing a hint of complacency.
“It was a real tough weekend,” he said. “I suppose what makes you appreciate the highs is the lows and it definitely was a low point in my career.
“That sounds a bit dramatic - it was round two - but the preparation leading into the game was not the way I like to go about things.
“We’ll definitely get a reaction, that’s going to happen, it really is a definite.
“We know we’re a good side, we’ve just got to prepare well and turn up on the day. There is no bigger game to do that.
“There is a lot of pride on the line because it’s our home venue and we’re hurting from last week. As regards last year, it’s last year, it’s something we can’t have any bearing on.”
The Roosters arrived in England under something of a cloud following the internal suspension of co-captain Mitchell Pearce for an alcohol-fuelled incident on Australia Day, which came on the heels of the departure of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney and Michael Jennings and the loss of Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to injury.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson will take a look at a new half-back pairing in 19-year-old Jayden Nikorima and 20-year-old Jackson Hastings and will also give debuts to Dale Copley and former Wigan winger Joe Burgess.
“They’ve got a very good squad - in my eyes one of the best in the competition - and they’re going to do very well in the NRL again this year,” Cunningham said.
“It will be a massive battle. We have a couple of games under our belt but we know their strike and they are one of the strongest sides in rugby league. I have always admired how they play and Trent Robinson is a good coach too.”
Saints are still without England hooker James Roby, who picked up a rib injury in their opening-round win over Huddersfield, but close-season signing Dominique Peyroux returns to plug the gap created by the loss of centre Mark Percival with a knee injury and stand-off Travis Burns is back in contention after being ignored for the first two rounds of Super League.
“It was for the balance of the team,” Cunningham said. “I spoke to Travis about it so he’s aware of the reason behind it. It’s a challenge for Travis to try and get that shirt back.”