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Optimism justified, but Saints players must back that up
SAINTS skipper Paul Wellens says the fans are right to be optimistic for the year ahead with the building sense of anticipation fuelled by some big off-season signings.
But Wellens, who is about to embark on his 17th season in the top flight, is wily enough to know that names on paper will not up to much unless the players themselves back it up.
And after disappointing starts to campaigns for the past four years, the former Man of Steel knows that a good opening month will be key to setting a positive tone for the 2014 season.
Wellens said: “It is the first time in quite a few years that there is a real sense of optimism about the year ahead; and rightly so given the additions we have made and the strength of the squad.
“From the players’ perspective, though, it is important not to get carried away. We are a strong squad but we still have to go out there and do the business.
“That is what we need to focus on.
“It certainly helps if you start the season strongly and the last three years or so we seemed to be playing catch-up.
“If you leave yourself a lot to do it does put pressure on you, starting the season strongly is very important to build some momentum.
“Warrington is a really tough fixture for round one but if we can get a good performance there that will hopefully kick start the season.”
It is something of a baptism of fire for Saints, travelling to the Halliwell Jones to face the team that will be trying to shake off back-to-back Grand Final defeats.
This time around it will be a little strange, with Lee Briers’ retirement giving the Wolves a different look – although nobody at Saints expects the primrose and blue ranks to be significantly weakened by the club’s departures.
Wellens said: “I have not only played against Briersy a number of times, I know him off the field as well, and he is a great fella who has been phenomenal for Warrington.
“He has been unbelievable as a player – one of the most naturally gifted footballers we have had in Super League so it is going to be a little strange not having him there – and there will be plenty of opponents pleased that he is not there any more.
“However, Warrington are still a strong side and although it does take some adjusting to when you let big personalities go, but they have players like Richie Myler and Stef Ratchford who are more than capable to step into the shoes.”
Wellens himself will be doing a lot of adjusting to his new role but at least he has now had an off-season to prepare for that middle role physically.
And despite being displaced from his full back berth and having to fight for his time on the pitch, his approach to the game remains as enthusiastic as was when he was first bursting into the side in the late 90s.
“In the off season I have probably focused a lot more on the weights side of things and put on a couple of kilos because when you are in the middle you are coming up against some big blokes and need to be physically prepared, “It has also been a case of just spending time practising at nine, six, one and 13.
“It has been practise, practise and practise because I can come on in any role and just need to be prepared.
“That is what I have been doing – you don’t expect to be challenging yourself like that in your 17th season but that is what is really exciting about the year.
“There are not many people at my age – 34 at the end of the month – who are constantly being challenged like that. It is exciting to come to training and work on things and feel like a 20 year old again with different challenges and I am really looking forward to what is in front of me this year,” Wellens said.