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Francis Meli to make a decision on St Helens future within the next fortnight
IF there was an award for Saints’ most improved player since the new coaching regime took over in March veteran three-quarter Francis Meli would be top of the list of candidates.
The big man’s form has been so good that he has played himself into being offered a further one-year deal to stay at the club for what would be a remarkable eighth season for an overseas player.
At 33, Meli looked all set to be shown the door at the end of this term, but his reversion to wing, after filling in at centre for more than a year, has provided Saints with the necessary fire-power to clear the lines and get the forwards on the front foot.
It is now no wonder that he has been offered a deal and - after his two try display for the Exiles and some eye-watering big tackles on England counterparts Sam Tomkins and Carl Ablett - Saints will not be the only club in the hunt.
It is something he anticipates making a decision on soon.
He said: “Saints have shown interest for another year and I am grateful for that.
“At the end of the year I could still go home and see my family. I have been here seven years now and I am still trying to sort a few things out and would probably make a decision within the next fortnight to see where I am heading.”
Saints do have cover on the wing, with Ade Gardner having another year to run on his contract and youngsters Tommy Makinson and Adam Swift developing by the week.
However, it is fair to say Saints’ back three has looked a lot more solid since Meli switched to the flank, with the other bonus being it has enabled another sturdy unit in teenager Josh Jones to take over in the centres.
Meli knew from experience what job needed to be done.
“I spoke about it with Rushy and Kez and it was highlighted that we had a problem in the back end of the field losing metres so they asked me if I wanted to go back.
“It was a decision I made for the team. It was one of those trial and error things and, I suppose if you do it well, you end up staying there. I am enjoying my football.
“I have been around a long time and play to my strengths and know what that is. It makes it easier for the forwards to give them an extra bit of yardage to get them on the front foot,” he said.
Capped 14 times by New Zealand, and now back on board with his native Samoa, Meli has his eyes fixed on another World Cup appearance – 13 years after his first one in 2000.
His appearances for the Exiles under former Saints coach, and current Samoa boss, Daniel Anderson have boosted his desire to carry on playing representative football.
“It is always exciting to be selected for the Exiles and play against the best the country has to offer. As a player that is the challenge you want - you want to see where you are.
“It was good to meet up with Daniel again and we spent a lot of time talking about old memories. He was happy to be back and it was a chilled out camp and it was not hard to throw a game plan together.
“Touch wood, if things go well that would be a goal to be here at the end of the year. It is good to play in those big events. Daniel is the right man for the job he is a smart coach and knows a lot about the game and is always researching.
“There are a lot of players coming through in the NRL who will make themselves available. It is hard for me to put my name in there with all these kids coming through and they are the future. If it comes round to it next year and I feel that I am not up to it I will be the first one to put my hand up and say ‘no’.”
But that is all much further down the pipeline, for the time being Meli has his sights fixed on three crucial games that will effectively determine where the Saints finish in the top eight, starting with Friday’s visit to Perpignan.
He knows it will be a tough one, against the team just above them in third spot.
“Catalan have bought well and brought in some experienced guys to surround the young French players coming up.
“It is hard to go over there and play. They have only lost twice at home this year and we haven’t got a good record over there so to get two points from there would be massive.
“It will be good to get over there and hopefully get away from the rain and throw the ball about. They are like us in the way they want to play some free-flowing football.
“Our main goal has been working on our defence. That is the key for us – if we can maintain that and string a few things together. We are playing some big teams in this next month, and that is what is going to be the challenge.
We know what to do to peak for the end of the season and it starts with Catalan on Friday, followed by Huddersfield and Warrington.
“If we can get six points out of that then it is a good sign to build something at the back end.
“It is all about peaking but it is important for us to start stringing some good form together now and maintain that up to the back end because come the end of the season it is just the little things that can turn a game and cost you the title,” Meli said.