LUKE Walsh will make his eagerly awaited debut when Saints tackle Championship outfit Batley in the club’s first warm-up game of the season.
Although there are also first appearances for Kyle Amor and Matty Dawson, all eyes will be on the 26-year-old former Penrith Panthers scrum half tasked with getting the team around the park.
Saints coach Nathan Brown will use Friday’s match against John Kear’s Bulldogs to give all the fit members of his squad a run out, but it will be an early opportunity to see how the new combinations are going to bed in.
With significant numbers of exits and new arrivals, this is very much a new look team – one that has Brown’s fingerprints all over it.
With a beefed up back and the club’s first hard-nosed number seven since Sean Long’s departure, the board have backed Brown’s judgement in recruitment.
But he will now be judged on the way that team slots together, plays and what it wins with the town anxious to end the five seasons without silverware.
Walsh will be key to those ambitions.
Brown said: “There is no doubt we have changed the dynamics of the team – if you look at the young outside backs that have come in, Jordan Turner last year and the young ones this year, there is now a lot of speed there.
“And in the front row we have added a fair bit of size.
“But with Walshy coming in we have a kid that has grown up playing half back.
“He is more your old style half back who naturally plays on the ball and is good organiser with a good kicking game.
“We feel that Walsh was important because we feel that he can complement other people around him in the squad.
“We have a lot of good halves come through St Helens this past three or four years since Longy has gone but not that style of half. We felt that style would help this squad and hopefully he can complement the players we have already got.
“If you bring Luke Walsh in what does it do for Lance Hohaia, Gary Wheeler or Jonny Lomax? We felt he has some talents that they don’t have.”
Walsh’s established teammates have been impressed with what Walsh has brought to the table in training already.
But Mose Masoe – Walsh’s former Penrith teammate, who misses the start of the year with an ankle injury – knows from experience that the diminutive number seven will translate that to the pitch.
“Luke will bring a lot of consistency – and his kicking game is first class. He can more or less put that ball on a string.
“He can put it in the corners and in the arm wrestle games he can make the difference. He has got a good right foot step too and likes to take on the line – it will be exciting for the side.
“He is bossy too, and that is good because as a front rower you like being told what to do than asked,” said Masoe.
The friendly games, starting with the one against Batley, will see a lot of the younger lads continue to press their case for a start.
Some of those young forwards in particular had an extended run last term, due to Saints’ awful luck with injuries. It means that experience there will give plenty of depth to the squad that needed a bit more size and experience at the sharp end.
Brown explained why the club have brought in five new players.
“It is about trying to work out what your squad needs and I was confident pretty early on that we lacked some big men.
“To the chairman’s credit he has gone and got Mose Masoe, and what an impact he is going to have after the World Cup.
“Mose can start too it is not just about off the bench. Then Kyle Amor came available and again Eamonn supported us and obviously did likewise in bringing in Luke Walsh because we needed a half.
“A lot of the other areas of the club we have filled with local juniors. To do really well you need a good local base, which we had, and need to recruit. I feel we have got that balance right,” he said.