Yates’ view: Saints’ next number nine has big boots to fill

James Roby
James Roby
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During the last 24 years two players have been a crucial cornerstone in St Helens’ trophy-winning triumphs - and their legacy cannot be overlooked.

Keiron Cunningham wore the no. 9 shirt from 1994 to 2010 before his understudy, James Roby, stepped out of the shadows to claim the hooking role - and is still going as strong as ever to this day.

Both can boast a plethora of honours on the world and domestic stage when pulling on the famous Red Vee jersey but who is waiting in the wings to become the next Cunningham or Roby?

It’s a intriguing question as the latter will turn 33 in November - and playing in a position which requires an extremely high level of fitness.

He cannot go on for ever but having said that Robes is showing little sign of slowing down and this was reflected in his non-stop all-action display which was instrumental in toppling neighbours Wigan Warriors 14-6 in Thursday’s derby at the DW Stadium.

His rivals for the coveted jersey may still have a long wait but Saints have several promising youngsters in their ranks who will hopefully be stepping into his boots one day, including Brandon O’Neill, Jake Wingfield, Paul Nash, Aaron Smith and Josh Eaves.

Good luck lads!

Playing Super League rugby on a Thursday night doesn’t tick many boxes - illustrated most emphatically by the number of fans who flocked to the Wigan Warriors-Saints derby at the DW Stadium.

Only 16,047 supporters bothered to turn out on a warm summer evening - ideal conditions for both players and supporters - to watch the top two teams in the Betfred Super League table lock horns in a battle for local bragging rights.

It represented one of the poorest gates in recent years with the number of empty seats sticking out like a sore thumb in a stadium which can hold 25,000 people.

Even Warriors’ chairman Ian Lenagan had anticipated a drop in the attendance figures during the build up to the match, writing in his match day programme notes: “The Wigan-Saints derby fixtures are always special occasions.

“Theses games are the perfect example of how sport can capture the public imagination but if it were not for the disappointing Thursday scheduling we would be looking at another full DW Stadium to showcase one of the highlights of the British sporting calendar.”

Sadly Sky, whose money helps keep the sport alive, dictate the scheduling and it seems that as far as the fans are concerned it is a case of grin and bare it.

Great to see Alex Walmsley retained among the updated English Rugby League Elite Performance squad revealed this week by head coach Wayne Bennett in preparation for the end-of-season three-match Test series against New Zealand.

It is a timely boost for the prop forward who underwent surgery on a serious neck injury earlier in the year and is due have a scan on Monday which will hopefully give an indication when he will be fit enough to return to match action.

He is joined in the squad by club mates Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival, James Roby and Luke Thompson while Matty Lees lines up with Danny Richardson in the England Knights’ squad.