FROM months of uncertainty during lockdown to cramming training sessions into the couple of weeks it - it has been a lockdown rollercoaster for Saints leading up to Sunday’s Super League restart.

Throw into that mix furlough, pay cuts, the departure of one prime international and the return of a well-loved former skipper and then there have been plenty of highs and lows on the way to this weekend.

But coach Kristian Woolf philosophically reflects that everybody, in all walks of life, across the world have been hit for six by this pandemic – not just the players at one of the nation’s greatest sports clubs.

At least for 80 minutes on Sunday – admittedly without the roar of supporters – the team can get back to do what they do best.

And the smiling faces back at training tell their own story – and no doubt there will be a few grimaces too getting used to contact such a lengthy lay off.

Reflecting on those uncertain early days and weeks Woolf said: “We had a lot of contact with the players over the break and everyone was a little bit frustrated.

“It was such an uncertain period, but that has been the same for everyone else in the world.

“We did not know whether we were going to be off for two or three weeks at first or whether it was going to be longer.

“It became pretty evident it was going to be longer – but then we were looking at months or not playing all year. That was the most difficult for the players to cope with.

“We got a lot of phone calls asking what was going on, but we just didn’t have answers.”

There has been a long process across the board, balancing the welfare of the players with the need to get the show back on the road and stop the sport haemorrhaging money.

“Once we got given the OK to come back there was a genuine excitement amongst the group,” Woolf said.

“You could really tell that from the first day and that hasn’t changed in the time that we have been together.

“Everyone has missed each other, missed footy and being part of the group.”

Although across the sport, the players will have had programmes to try and stick to – with little of their usual resources and the absence of coach Woolf or strength and conditioning Matty Daniels directing them, they have been trusted.

Woolf strongly believes that the players who have looked after themselves best during the four-month break, ahead of the return to club training, have shown up best in training and as a result the first games to come.

“Every team will have given their players programmes to follow, but a lot will boil down to what they have done in their own time.

“If they have been really honest and worked hard they will have bullet-proofed themselves for the level of training that is required and what they are going to face when playing.

“They are the ones that are going to be most ready for contact and ready for competition again.”

The contact has been a real headache for a sport where high-impact collisions are the norm. The bodies will not have had the same level of battle-hardening conditioning that usually comes in pre-season drills and trials.

The restrictions have seen to that up until the last couple of weeks – and even that has posed a dilemma.

“We have not been able to do contact until the last three weeks when we got back as a group,” Woolf said.

“We have had a focus on that – but we know we have to get a fair bit of volume in that contact, so that bodies are ready to go, at the same time you can overdo that and break players if you try to do too much.

“It has been a real balancing act there. I’m really confident in what we have done with the programme since they came back and what they did in their own time.”

Although cardboard cut outs will replace real fans, come 4.15pm on Sunday at least there will be something ‘normal’ to start arguing about and cheering.

For that Woolf is grateful – hinting at some of the sacrifices that have had to be made during these tough times, particularly for a club like Saints who have been unable to use their magnificent seven-day a week facilities at the stadium.

“The most important thing at the moment is that we are back training and getting a chance to play this week and that is really positive.

“Whilst we would all love to have our fans and crowds there – if that is what we have got to do with everything going on the world, we are more than happy to do that.

“We are a working-class sport and not one that has millions of dollars like other sport.

“We have to make changes around the place and will have to be without things not just this year but going forward.

“It has had a big impact.

“One of the big reasons to get back as soon as we can is to stop all that money going out and nothing coming back in and ensure that all teams stay afloat.”