SAINTS have confidence in their new half-back partnership as they bid to keep hold of top spot in the final five rounds of Super League, starting with a win at Hull FC on Friday night.
Jordan Turner, against his former club, and Gary Wheeler are set to start in combination for the first time, with Luke Walsh’s broken leg and Jon Wilkin’s recurring shoulder problem putting them on the sidelines with another experienced playmaker Lance Hohaia (foot).
Head coach Nathan Brown explained their selection would provide some continuity in seeking to compensate for the loss of Walsh for the rest of the season, Wilkin indefinitely and Hohaia for the remaining regular rounds at least.
And despite expecting to name new signing Shannon McDonnell in the 19-man squad against the full back’s former club, Brown hints at keeping Paul Wellens in the number one role to offer assistance to the new-look half backs in guiding the team around the KC Stadium pitch.
Wheeler returned from a six-match absence in Friday’s win at Widnes and Brown was impressed with how he and regular centre Turner came together to regain control after a brief Vikings fightback that sandwiched Walsh being stretchered off.
“Wheels and JT stood up and delivered when they needed to stand up and deliver so it actually gives us a lot of confidence going into this week and moving forward,” said Brown.
“Jordy’s actually a very good talker out there and Wheels is a terrific young player.
“The reality is, it’ll come down to how well the forwards play.
“And that’s the case if Walsh and Wilko are there or not. If the forwards don’t do well and get on top and put in a good stint, you’re really behind the eight-ball.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our pack of forwards. They’ll step up and take some responsibility which should help those guys.
“We know it won’t be perfect but if we all buy into things together and work hard for each other as a group we’ll give ourselves a shot each week.”
Australian Walsh, who had missed the three previous matches with a back injury, is expected to take four to five months to recover from his ‘snapped fibia’.
The former Penrith scrum half’s leg ended up pointing the wrong way after he attempted to make a tackle against Widnes, leaving him in hospital for two nights and requiring surgery.
“He’s had surgery, and the plate and bolts and all the type of things that go in, said Brown, who added that the recovery time is ‘as good a result as you could expect’ in the circumstances.
Back rower Wilkin has stepped in to replace Walsh or Hohaia at times during the year but his availability again this season is in doubt.
“We don’t know if Wilko will appear again this year or not,” said Brown.
“He hurt his shoulder against Salford and it’s an ongoing management issue. We’ll just see what unfolds over the next few weeks.
“He’s played since then but as is the case with these issues you play at a risk and there’s always a chance.
“You can put them out for surgery and they’re definitely out or you can try and rehab them and get them through.
“We’ve put him through rehab and he come back and gave us three games, which was quite beneficial because those three were without Luke.”