ST HELENS will prove to be much tougher opponents in 2014 than they were last year, according to Wolves boss Tony Smith.
Tonight’s Super League opener for the two sides promises to be a fascinating duel, not just because of the historically fierce rivalry but because both teams will be testing the new links in their respective chains.
“I think Saints are in a lot stronger position this year than they were last year,” admitted Smith.
“Certainly they are in a much better position to have a strong start to the season.
“I think they have recruited well and they are one of those teams that have strengthened and added depth within their squad.”
Saints have brought in former Penrith Panthers scrum half Luke Walsh, while re-stocking the pack with Kyle Amor as well as injured pair Richard Beaumont and the Samoan bulldozer Mose Masoe.
Likewise, Wolves may well provide a Super League debut to two of their new recruits, with Roy Asotasi likely to start in the front row and fellow packman Anthony England fighting for a place on the bench.
Wolves will be without Paul Wood, Ben Harrison and Simon Grix through injury, while an ankle problem will keep out new full back Matty Russell, who Smith expects to return next week at Leeds following a run-out for Swinton Lions.
This means that new number six Stefan Ratchford can expect a shift at full back and Smith’s hand is forced in terms of the half back options he will utilise.
“Simon Grix had an off-season shoulder operation and it is just not strengthened at the final bit as well as we would have liked so it has set him back a few weeks,” said Smith.
“The half-back combination will be similar to what we saw against Salford (friendly last Wednesday).
“There is any number of combinations that we could use throughout the game, but Stef is likely to start at full back and I will use either Michael Monaghan or Gareth O’Brien alongside Richie Myler.”
But considering the recent weather and this being the first game in a long season, Smith does not expect either side to be at their most effective with ball in hand, regardless of who is in the halves.
“The way the two teams play at this stage differs to when we meet each other the other 15 times this season,” joked Smith.
“I think we’ll all be underdone in this first few weeks, very few teams start the season fully prepared in terms of games and combinations, including us.
“It certainly will be that ‘start of the season style’ rugby league and that brings a closeness between all the teams I feel.
“It is not the best and certainly not the most attractive form, not our preferred style certainly, but it is a different style where you have to roll your sleeves up and trust your kicking game and defence.”