HEAD coach Kristian Woolf has admitted that it is going to be tough to replace England prop Luke Thompson - who yesterday announced he was joining NRL outfit Canterbury Bulldogs.

Saints are now weighing up the best options for a replacement, domestically and overseas, a process they will have to combine with rewarding some of the club’s talented players with contract extensions.

Although Woolf – like everyone else at the club – is disappointed with Thompson’s decision to leave for the NRL he confidently expects the current Harry Sunderland Award holder to maintain his highest standards until the end.

Woolf said: “We have had a few conversations with Luke over the last couple of months and thought there was a good opportunity to keep him here.

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“There were lots of reasons for him to stay. Luke has been at the club since he was 10/11 – he is a player who has been developed by the club as a St Helens player.

“That is why it was so hard for him to make a decision, even though there were plenty of lures for him to go to the NRL.

“The final conversation on Monday morning was pretty strong on what he wanted to achieve here this year.

“That is what he said to the players as well. There was a real sense of what he wants to achieve before he does go, he expressed what a hard decision it was and the reasons why it was so difficult.

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“Luke was really strong on making a decision now so he and everyone else could move on a little bit.

“He is a big part of this team and does not want it to be a distraction.”

From supporters to chairman, there was a deep sense of disappointment rippling through the town yesterday t the news that the prop – just like James Graham nine years ago – is leaving for the Bulldogs as he approaches the peak of his powers.

Woolf summed it up: “We are all disappointed because he such an integral part of the team, not just because the way he plays, but what he is like as a person. Everyone has a sense of disappointment.

“He is a terrific player, a terrific person who offers a lot to our team – and he is a little bit different to other front rowers running around worldwide as well.

“At the same time the club as a whole will support him and his decision and trust that he will give his absolute best for us this year, there is no doubt whatsoever.

“We all support the fact that we think he will do really well in the NRL.”

Thompson will leave big boots to fill when he departs at the end of the season – and Woolf will have good knowledge on the type of player he wants.

“We are going to have to have a look, but at the same time we are very confident in the players we have at the club coming through,” he said.

“It will be a matter of making sure we have got the best of those – and there might be guys among those who we need to look at extending contracts.

“We will look there first, but obviously it is hard to replace a player like Luke.

“We need to make sure we are still at the top of the competition – and finding someone to fill that gap, whether it comes from within or from overseas is what we are going to have to look at over the next couple of months.”

Saints have been successful in retaining their best talent – with no other players since Graham moving to the NRL – with the likes of James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Tommy Makinson sticking with the red vee despite offers from Down Under.

But that challenge is there – and Saints have a cluster of players who would be in demand.

“In some ways it is a real vote of confidence for what the club do here.

“We have got plenty of other players for whom the club has been a big part in how they have developed – and we will continue to do that.

“But when you do that they are very attractive to other clubs in Super League and in the NRL, and in other codes. That is the way of the world.

“We have just got to make what we have got here is really good,” Woolf said.