SAINTS’ Challenge Cup exit at Headingley raised many questions - Nathan Brown answers the ones put to him by the Star’s senior sports writer Mike Critchley.
MC: Defeats on Good Friday and the Challenge Cup are taken badly because are massive games to lose. Have you had an inquest and worked out where it went wrong?
NB: Unfortunately our start to the game had quite a big bearing on it again. We dropped the ball without making contact. After the opposition scored we seemed to start the game and it was great game of footy for 70 minutes.
MC: The team is having to do a lot of tackling due to those sloppy carries. Why is that happening? NB: Yes, it has happened for the past five or six weeks and it is not just one person, either. The few times it happened previously, when we went behind and got out of trouble, makes you sometimes sub-consciously think it does not matter because we can come back.
The difference between Wigan and Leeds and those teams that we came back against is that Wigan and Leeds have got a lot of trophies in their cabinet over the past five years. They have got those trophies because when they get you by the throat they don’t seem to let go really easy.
You have to work extremely hard. In the Wigan and the Leeds game we had to work hard to get back into both contests and they were really good games of footy, but the starts to the game had a huge impact on those results.
We need to be far better at the start. There is no wand to make it happen, all we can do is make each other aware of it and make sure as a staff we start our training sessions really well and eventually it will turn, but I can’t promise that it will turn this week.
MC: Why did you put Jon Wilkin in at 6 ahead of Lance Hohaia?
NB: Wilko plays like a 6 when he plays back row anyway. And we won 13 games straight with Wilko at 7 last year. What is great is that there are fans out there now singing Lance’s praises because he has been given a tough time since he got here, so that makes me feel good. Lance is a good competitor.
But we felt going with a bigger team to match their big team was the right decision. Because you win or lose does not make it wrong or right.
We made a couple of decisions early on this year when we won and I was not convinced they were the right decisions, obviously when they lose it does not automatically make them wrong.
MC: Luke Walsh looks injured – is he carrying a serious knock with that elbow?
NB: He hyper-extended it a couple of weeks ago and then again in the game the other day. It appears that it is only a minor issue.
MC: He was certainly the spot player in defence?
NB: As a whole he did well – he is only a little fella but when the group works hard together he does a good job and the tries did not come in his area.
MC: He frustratingly lost his footing a fair bit – in good attacking position?
NB: Purely a footwear issue on his first trip to that field.
MC: Mark Percival came back and made a good impression after a long break.
NB: Yes, he did some good stuff but he was around one or two of their tries, too. That is because he has not been playing. Everyone saw why we picked him – he created the try and went through a few other times. You need your best attacking players when you play Leeds and he is a wonderful young player but will have got some lessons too.
MC: The manner in which Leeds’ big men make yards and the way Kevin Sinfield kicks off the back of that kept you at arm’s length for long periods.
NB: Early on the first half was really dominated by them and at 12-6 at half time I thought we had done extremely well. Unfortunately they got the early try and although we fought back at 20-12 we could not nail that next one. That is where the start of the game hurt us. They always had that break of serve on us, just like Wigan did at 20-14 and then at 26-14 Champion sides don’t let you go.
That is why we need to improve our starts.
MC: Leeds were constantly getting repeat sets with their kicking game. Saints struggled in that department – do you put this on the forwards for not setting a platform or the kickers for poor execution?
NB: In the first half there was quite a strong wind that people were not aware of and that had a big bearing. In the second half we got a bit more field position with that.
The other thing, it is clear the size of Leeds’ outside backs they play on the front foot more than any other team. They average 1,600m per week – the next nearest are us and Wigan on about 1,400m.
The size and athleticism of their outside backs helps them get on the front foot a lot more. We needed repeat sets, but we also need to take chances. We scored two and created two really good chances and they scrambled really well. And there wan another we did not take.
Leeds have let in 50 per cent less tries than their nearest rival someone should take their hat off and give them credit there.
MC: Accepting Leeds were better all round, but was there any issue with the calls preceding the first two tries?
NB: Well the thing is, we dropped the ball to start the game to put ourselves on the back foot and after that Jonesey thing, touch it or not, they got the try.
Then they had 1,000 goes to score but we were good enough to stop them. If we had defended the first five minutes like we defended the next 30, we would not be talking about whether he touched it. You get some lucky and unlucky calls, the reality is we won three weeks in a row and all we heard was the opposition whingeing about the referee rather than what we did right.
St Helens are there on the table for a reason – we are a decent team. But if you want to beat Leeds you can’t be worrying about the ref, you have to get your own back yard in order.
MC: Is it a worry about the number of points you have conceded in consecutive matches.
NB: I don’t like the number of points in the Wigan and Leeds games because they are tough sides to score against and you don’t want to be allowing 30. Leeds got theor second to last try through great defence and busted us out of trouble. We have got one or two people who are coming up with a bit of a brain snap – that is what is happening.
Not a one person problem so it is not a case of getting rid of that individual, it is a mixture of the group.
If you watch, for long periods of the game you see how good Leeds are and we handled them well. But if you have one or two lapses against Leeds they hurt you.
MC: So to take stock – we have started the season great, unbeaten for so long, injuroes and suspensions and then three defeats. That early momentum has gone, how do you pick it back up?
NB: Hopefully by having some consistency with the team selection will help get that flow back. 99 per cent of the changes have been forced – injuries or suspension – not coach driven. And we need to prepare well.