SAINTS will play two friendlies the week before the Super League season kicks off at home to Castleford on 2 February.

This is a departure from previous years when a week was left fallow ahead of the big kick off, but having 11 players on World Cup duty, combined with a start that is a week earlier than last term, means that this format is now Holbrook’s favoured option.

He said: “Ideally you play your last friendly, then have a week off and then start the comp, but the way it has fallen that is not possible.

“I’d rather get another week of training into them and then go for it.

“It is going to be really hard for the World Cup boys, to be honest, because it is the time of year you get your most training in.

“That is why I have opted to play as late as we have going into round one.”

Saints will entertain Leigh on Friday, 26 January preceded by a still to be confirmed opposition the week before.

The seven Saints players who represented France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland began a three-week break as soon as they were knocked out.

Some of those have already returned to training.

England’s Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival, Alex Walmsley and James Roby will have a short break once Saturday’s World Cup finale is over.

“They will get at least a couple of weeks off which is important. They do need a break because it is a long year that they play.”