WE catch up with Saints’ Paul Wellens about his appointment, along with Hull’s Andy Last, to assistant positions under Shaun Wane in the England Rugby League camp. And we look closer to home as well.

Q: Tell us how this England role has come about?

A: I’ve been involved in the England environment for a good few years now. Initially it was with Steve McNamara back in 2014 while I was still playing, running messages on game day.

So I’ve been in and around the group since then, and this is just another progression in my development as a coach but also what a wonderful opportunity again to work with a coach who is very highly regarded and obviously very successful, and to work with the best players this country has to offer, and the opportunity to be part of something special and to do something great.

Q: You spent a chunk of your career trying to topple Shaun Wane’s teams as a player and coach, and now you’re going to be working alongside him. Is there some irony in that?

A: Maybe a little. But I think one thing that comes out of that Saints-Wigan rivalry is a great deal of respect. And having played against numerous Shaun Wane teams, I understand at first hand what he expects from his players – hugely committed, highly motivated, with a culture to leave everything out there on the field. I think he’ll be looking to put that into the England team, whichever players are fortunate enough to be pulling on the jersey come the end of the year.

Q: What do you believe Shaun Wane sees in you that he wanted working alongside him?

A: I’m a young coach, enthusiastic and always wanting to learn and try and get better. I think even Shaun himself, as successful as he’s been, and all the great coaches who have been successful, always try to better themselves, always look for improvements. I want to be that coach too and I hope he sees that in me and together, along with Andy Last as a coaching team, hopefully we can take this England team forward.

Q: Have you worked with Andy Last before?

A: I haven’t, though I’ve known him for a long time. We’re a similar age and played Academy rugby against each other when he was at Hull at the start of his career.

In the short experience I’ve had dealing with him, he’s a quality guy and I’m looking forward to working alongside him.

Q: I hear that Shaun has challenged you both to think outside the box and try to come up with ways to try and get England an edge for when rugby league starts again, is there anything more you can tell us about this?

A: It’s still in the very early stages. We’re looking at ways this England team can be better. We’ve got a huge challenge with an Ashes series against Australia and then next year the World Cup. We’ve got to find some ‘edge’ from somewhere, find a way where we can be better, because for a long time we’ve always come up that little bit short and we want to find that final four, five, six, seven percent, whatever it maybe, to help the team be successful.

It’s a great challenge and Shaun has mentioned that he challenges his coaches and that’s great for us. Both Andy and myself, as young coaches, are learning by being challenged and can continue to learn.

Q: Does the deal as assistant coach continue into the World Cup year?

A: The plan is to go this year and the World Cup year in 2021. It’s great to be a part of both an Ashes and a World Cup. I didn’t go with Great Britain Down Under last year. I’d done internationals for a few years and I consciously took a year away from doing it to spend some time with the family, which I hadn’t done for a while, knowing that hopefully I could continue into 2020 and 2021 which is something I am really excited about.

Q: What do you make of the talent available to England at the moment?

A: In Super League in particular, there’s some good young players. Shaun has announced an initial squad but has gone on record to say the door remains open for players outside of that. So there’s very much great opportunity for all players to give themselves an opportunity to play. What a wonderful thing it would be to play in and win an Ashes series, or to play in or win a World Cup.

It’s something I know from when I played international rugby, you probably don’t appreciate as much when you’re in the cut and throes of it but since I’ve retired I’ve had a look back on my international career with great pride but also with that little nagging doubt that we didn’t probably win things that we wanted to win. These young players who have got the opportunity should look to grasp it with both hands.

Q: Considering the difficulties at the moment with the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, the Ashes series could be a real boost and lift to the nation later in the year, couldn’t it, if the organisers can get it on?

A: It would be a huge lift for the game of rugby league in general. England against Australia in an Ashes series is synonymous within world sport. You only have to look at the cricket for the impact of an Ashes series. Rugby league could have a similar impact, I believe, at the end of the year with an Ashes series. Given the circumstances that we’re all in at the moment, rugby seems a million miles away. It would be a huge boost.

Q: Closer to home, have you been able to continue to do bits for Saints during the pandemic?

A: There’s only so much you can do, like sitting at a computer and watch some games. It’s important to probably not get too bogged down in it all. Whatever profession you’re in, we’re all in pretty similar circumstances unless you’re a key worker. A lot of us are at home, just trying to find ways of working and continue to try and learn stuff.

I’ve probably learned more about myself away from the game than by trawling through hours of rugby footage. One thing it has done is given me an appreciation for what we do have when we do go to work, and how much I do enjoy it. I’m really excited to obtain the opportunity to go back, and hopefully that can happen sooner rather than later but obviously the decision where that lies is with the powers above.

Q: With Saints having a new head coach this year, how’s it been working with Kristian Woolf, and how are things different for you from when working with Justin Holbrook.

A: I think every coach has got their own ideas and philosophies. The first thing that comes across is that he’s really determined and enthusiastic. He wants to do well. He’s settled into the town and into the community really well with his young family. First and foremost, things are great in that respect.

He’s passionate about the team being successful. While early on in the year we had a couple of performances that weren’t fully to the standard we’d like them to be, we have every confidence in this group. Considering what they’ve shown they’re capable of in recent years they will improve, they will get better.

My role’s not too dissimilar. We have a very close working relationship. Kristian, myself and Richard Marshall share ideas and thoughts, and come up with a way in which we feel we are best suited. Kristian made it clear when he first came in that he didn’t want to change too much because there wasn’t a lot that needed changing. However, we do continue to look for areas where we can improve and that’s what we’re striving for.

Q: Any other message for the supporters?

A: Obviously we’re all missing rugby league at the moment. The lads have been phoning around to check in with supporters, particularly the elderly ones, but the thing is to use this time wisely. We look forward to getting back out on the field and to having people coming back to the stadium so we can get back to doing what we do best, but in the mean time there’s far bigger things going on in the world so stay safe and we’ll look forward to seeing you soon.