WITH Saints pre-season training now well under way, the Star's Mike Critchley had a quick catch-up with Saints coach Kristian Woolf on how the players have got stuck back into it after the break.

MC: What sort of break have the players had since the Grand Final in November?

KW: We tried to give the players a longer break than they what they usually get.

2020 had been a long season – and even though they didn’t play a lot of games, the lockdown and the uncertainty meant that they were training the whole time.

Then there was the extra mental load, with all the additional things we have to do, so we thought a good break was important. We did not come back in till well after New Year.

It has been really good – and there is a real freshness in the step of all the players and they have appreciated a bit of a break and come back in good nick too, so we have got a reward back.

St Helens Star:

MC: What sort of shape they come back in?

KW: They all came back in really good shape and I am really happy with them in that sense.

After having such a great success at the end of last year, and a long year in which they have had to show a lot of discipline in so many ways on and off the field and work so hard for so long, there is always a little bit of risk that players would give themselves extra break and not come back exactly how you want them.

But I have been really impressed and happy with how they have come back. We have learned to expect nothing less because that is how they have been through the lockdown period and that is why they get the success that they do.

St Helens Star:

MC: Some of the more experienced players will not be used to this length of off-season and pre-season – how is that helping?

KW: The blokes who have played a lot of international football over the last few years won’t be used to this.

The lockdown period last year when not playing footy was an opportunity for the players to give their bodies a bit of a rest from not being banged up from playing every week and work on their bodies in terms of strength and fitness.

That is a big difference here compared to the Australian game where they get long breaks and then long pre-seasons, where you can work on their bodies.

Over here there is more footy, the breaks are a lot less and when you add on the internationals on top it means you don’t get a lot of time to work on your body and have that break.

MC: What have you been able to do that you can’t do normally – given we are in February and the season is still five weeks away?

KW: We have been able to do a lot more this year – we are in the fourth or fifth week into pre-season and we have been able to do more than in this period that we did last year.

There are a couple of reasons. First of all we have got a little bit more time together and secondly, we have got everyone together.

We are not waiting for blokes to come back from internationals and we have fewer surgeries and a lot less major surgeries as well, so that puts us in a better position.

But all the clubs will be like that and getting more work in.

That should result in a much better product when the season comes back.

St Helens Star:

MC: Is the length of time all positive – or is there anything you need to do in order to keep the players and their routines fresh?

KW: It is all positive at the moment but we do have to consider keeping the players fresh. It is a very long year when you add pre-season on top of game time.

That is a lot of hard work every week over a very long period – you have got to look at ways at Keeping the players a little bit mentally fresh and freshen up their bodies when you get the opportunity as well.

But at moment everyone is enjoying it and working hard. Everyone is recognising that there’s a bit of difference as well.

St Helens Star:

MC: Are all the players who have had surgery back in full training?

KW: Morgan Knowles is now back in full training – joining the others. The only guy not in full training is Kevin Naiqama who had to have a late clean out of his knee. He will be back in full training in a week or so.

Kevin started the pre-season but there was an underlying issue there that, although we knew that it was not major, was better to get done sooner rather than later.