AFTER a good first round back, the Star’s Mike Critchley caught up with Saints boss Kristian Woolf to talk rugby.

MC: First game back - and a tough one - how have they come through it?

KW: We have come through fine, injury wise – with it being the first game back for a long time there are plenty of bumps and bruises – that kind of thing, but at this stage there is nothing that is going to keep blokes out of training or playing.

We are also hopeful that Matty Lees should be fine as too should Dom Peyroux, so we have a few more to select from this week. That gives us a selection headache, which is always a good thing.

St Helens Star:

MC: Did you expect that high level of performance, given the long time out of action?

KW: I was really happy with how we approached the game and we prepared really well and that showed in how we performed. We have to make sure we back it up this week now.

It was a high quality game and in that first 10-15 minutes in particular we had to work really hard to get on top of Catalans by the end of that period. If we hadn’t done so it could have been a very different game.

St Helens Star:

It was a high-speed, high-quality game – everyone wears GPS systems nowadays and that suggests the same.

There are new rules which had a big effect on the intensity and the speed that we you are expected to play for longer periods.

I know what sort of work our players have done during the COVID period and know how well they have trained and what sort of work they have done since we have been back together as well.

St Helens Star:

MC: When you put together the GPS data, with the feedback from the players and from your own observations what have you learned from that first 80 under the new laws ?

KW: It is only the first game and we will get a bit more of an average once we get into a couple of games when we can compare, say with an average earlier this year or last year.

But the early indications are higher intensities for longer periods. Players are covering more in terms of distance and a lot of that is off the back of more ball in play in general. They were the main things that showed up in that game. We expect that this will be the case from now on, that is for sure.

MC: You paid tribute to front row post match, but your backs certainly gave them a leg up with their carries?

KW: They have always been important, but with all of those things mentioned – ball in play and a higher intensity and therefore more fatigue in different times of the game, your back five need to play a more important part in terms of starting sets and a bigger part in getting teams forward at different times of the game.

St Helens Star:

MC: James Bentley’s performance gives you real food for thought on selection with Dom Peyroux fit – or do senior players earn credits?

KW: We have got to go with a bit of both. The blokes who have earned the right to be starters and have performed for long periods need some credit for what they have done, but by the same token we need to honour performances as they come about as well. I was really happy with James Bentley.

He did not offer anything I did not expect to see. Wherever we have thrown him this year he has been outstanding for us – he started as hooker and did a really good job there. In the World Club Challenge he played centre and marked Joseph Manu who is considered one of the best centres in the world and did a great job there.

Along with Mark Percival, when James got injured, they were the two blokes we missed the most – and we had a number of injuries – but those were the ones we missed.

It was not a surprise to see him perform the way he did. We will figure out how we fit blokes in the side later on in the week – but I was very happy with what he did, that is for sure.

St Helens Star:

MC: Does James Bentley’s doggedness, skill and tenacity take his lack of size for a back rower out of the equation?

KW: I think it does to a fair extent. He is tough player and he competes hard. He is in a team that really respects what he does as well.

We are a team that has a place for that type of player more so than some others. I think those are his best attributes – I understand he is not the biggest, but he has his own way of being really effective in what he does with the ball as well. I just think he is a really good player and was really happy with his performance.

St Helens Star:

MC: Having got the first game off the ground is there anything with regards to the protocols and arrangements which will be easier now?

KW: I thought it was pretty seamless. There are certain things that you have to do and be aware of that are different to what it was a few months ago.

But it has become a bit normal for the players because they are filling in health questionnaires and getting temperature tests and wearing masks – protocol around washing hands at training has become the norm. It was the same sort of thing we had to do in preparation for the game.

I think the players have just got on with it and they will continue to do so. It really is not an issue – it is a little bit different but it is becoming normal.

St Helens Star:

MC: How did Joseph Paulo and the other ball boys take to their new roles?

KW: We have seen it in the NRL. It is a team game and everyone of our players, who are not playing, are going to have to put their hands up and do it at some stage. It is important that they share the load there.

If you ask them they didn’t mind doing it as much as they thought they might.