Saints’ club captain Paul Wellens is remarkably entering his 17th season in the red vee, but it will nevertheless be a year of new challenges for him and his new role in the team.
Mike Critchley caught up with the highly decorated, long-serving, hometown
club man to ask about his thoughts and plans for the year ahead and beyond…
MC: News of your latest one year contract came out in the off-season. Did you get other offers?
PW: I had agreed to it a while ago but never got round to signing the contract. It was one of those things that I managed to get boxed off after the season had finished. I had no other offers, to be honest. Although there was a brief interest from Salford, there was nothing concrete laid down and I was listening to the same reports as everyone else. My intention was to not go anywhere else. I am sure if I had wanted to I’d have been able to have earned a few extra quid elsewhere, but it is not the be all and end all. I consider myself a one-club man and would like to finish that way.
MC: Not wishing to write this year off from a playing point of view, but do you have ambitions to be involved with the Saints beyond playing?
PW: Maybe so. It is something that I have spoken with the chairman about. I am very keen to get involved with the coaching side of things and it is something I have been thinking of for a while, but having the opportunity to work with England last year has further whetted my appetite and convinced me that is the route I want to go down. That is something that excited me, and to get the opportunity to do it here would be great. But I am also aware that there are not thousands of jobs out there and have to be sensible about things. But I have a great relationship with the chairman and am sure that it is something we will discuss further down the track
MC: Did you enjoy your World Cup role?
PW: It was brilliant and far exceeded my expectations, to be honest. To be able to work with some great players, having played against the vast majority of them, and get an understanding of a different perspective than that of a player was tremendous. When you are within the playing group you can adopt a selfish mentality of getting yourself right and ready to play. But on the coaching side of things you are responsible for 30-odd decisions. Seeing it behind the scenes and the tough decisions that have to be made was great for me in giving me an understanding of the pressures of coaching.
MC: How tough is it watching Jonny Lomax take your number one shirt and accepting that your day at full back has gone?
PW: If someone had said to me ‘carry on wearing the one shirt for the next 19 years’, I’d have loved it, but I am also a realist. I understand that this was never going to be the case and it comes to an end at some stage. There is no bigger fan of Jonny than me, and I have watched him come through the system. I visited him in hospital when he had his brain operation, and to see him come from that to turn out the way he has is very pleasing. If I was going to pass up that shirt to anyone it would be to someone like Jonny, and I hope he makes a real success of it. I hope he’s sat in my chair in 15 years’ time and talking about how he has enjoyed playing number one at this club for so long.
MC: It is going to help Jonny having you in the squad for support and advice isn’t it?
PW: We are obviously quite different players, but there are things in my game that I did well that Jonny could take into his game, benefitting his play. We do speak quite regularly about that. But it is not about trying to turn Jonny into me, because that is not what we need. Jonny has his own skill set and plays the game a certain way and is a really exciting player to watch. I am there to sit down and watch the video with him and give him advice.
MC: Playing wise, what are you expecting for yourself in 2014?
PW: Similar to the back end of last year, playing that utility type role. It does not really worry me. In fact, it is quite an exciting challenge. I am 34 later this month and am constantly being challenged. Every day when I turn up to training now I have got things to work on and do, and that is a great thing. In doing that I have learned an understanding and respect for the work other players do. Having played in numerous positions I now know how hard they work, and that will benefit me too when I go into coaching.
MC: Do you envisage this being your last season as a player, or do you not want to think about that until the year is well underway?
PW: It is in my mind but I am not going to make any decisions until further down the track. That is the sensible thing to do at the moment. It could well be my last year, but may not be. We’ll just have to see how things pan out. Health, fitness and form will be the three big questions that will determine my decision. It will probably get to June, July or August before I know, but it is important not to get distracted by that, because if it is my last year I want to be totally focussed on helping the team be successful.