JONNY Lomax has relished his return to the halves, and so far this season has been utilising the skillset he originally showed when he first broke into the side as a teenager.

The arrival of Ben Barba shunted Lomax away from his number one berth at the end of last season, but that did not stop him being selected in the World Cup squad as full back.

Although he was moved to centre in one match last term, it has largely been back to halves for Lomax, which has brought the challenges he has relished.

With Matty Smith, Theo Fages and Danny Richardson also on board, competition is intense for the spots in guiding the team around the park, but Lomax loves that.

And it is a case of so far, so good at the start of this year - Lomax’s tenth in the red vee – with Saints racking up two good wins.

Lomax said: “For myself it is great. I came back not really knowing where it was going to be at, where Justin saw me and how things had been going in pre-season.

“I had heard that everyone had been training so hard but I missed that, but realised it was something that I was going to have to rise to and work hard and almost force my way in.

“That is how I saw it and that is what I tried to do.

“I have to take the challenge forward, rather than sulking about it.

“The way I think about it I have moved to another position that is very similar to full back with regards to the in the line defending.

“And a lot of the time you see full backs that were initially half backs and you see that across that the league that some of those end up working their way back into the halves.

“That is the skill set you have to have between the two now.

“Full back has become more or less the third pivot and so the skill sets are inter-changeable.

“I looked forward to this and I knew what I had to work on and that is what I have tried to do.

“That has allowed me to do what is best for the team.”

It has worked well so far, with Lomax linking well with Barba and the left hand gang of Mark Percival and Zeb Taia - and that has brought some points for himself and the team. His ability to pick the right pass in the line has invariably been productive, even if it has got him a few clouts for his trouble.

Lomax was initially a half when he really became established in the first team under Royce Simmons and was part of that young half partnership with Lee Gaskell that guided the Saints to the 2011 Grand Final.

Nathan Brown eventually moved Lomax to full back, a move he immediately marked with a hat-trick at Bradford, and position he had made his own - until Barba’s arrival.

But there is a school of thought that says there is a degree of impatience with young halves, and Lomax is not the only one to have been displaced across the league over the years.

Lomax is philosophical about it and the lessons he has learned.

“You have only got to look now at George Williams is doing at Wigan and they have stuck with him,” he said.

“At times as a young half, and probably myself at the time, you want always to attack and you want to be playing but sometimes you have got to have that composure to step back and see it from a different position.

“If you lose the ball on the third tackle and the forwards are working hard it has an impact, because the game has largely become a battle of attrition.

“But I do think there is an impatience with young halves because if results don’t go your way it is always the halves that are looked at first because they are seen as the most accountable to get a team around the pitch.

“But having played other positions it gives you an appreciation seeing it from a different point of view, especially from behind the line at full back.

“There you are the last man to get it.

“You get an appreciation of when you would want the ball and you take that back when you return to the halves.

“I’ve been getting a few clouts back there, and have not missed those, but I am enjoying it again there.”

Having finished the 2017 alongside the experience Matty Smith, so far this year the half back combination has seen Lomax partner Richardson – and the two have complemented each other well in the side’s winning start to the campaign.

The 21-year-Widnesian brings effervescence, audacity and a kicking game, but is not carrying the whole workload in calling the shots, and Lomax is pleased with the way it is working.

“As I said earlier, people can be impatient and when you have got an older head, who has played with a lot of other half backs and understood it a bit I hope that it means I am helping him out.

“But for me personally I am just enjoying being back playing there in the halves.”

However, having Fages and Smith waiting in the wings, so to speak, means that both incumbents will have to stay on their toes.

Lomax’s first job, given that he was on World Cup duty and then having a short off-season, was getting back into the side – and he was under no illusions that this would be easy.

He added: “For myself it was the challenge because while I was away I was hearing how well people were going in pre-season.

“Well I am a pretty competitive person. I have gone through a lot of times where people have said I ‘can’t do this or that’ but I guess I’m also a pretty stubborn person as well as being competitive.

“That challenge is what has encouraged me to try and hit the ground running as much as possible when I came back in.

“That is what I intend to try and continue doing.

“That is my goal, I want to do my best to maintain that momentum.

“We have some good competition in the halves and that keeps us on our toes, but that competition is a across the board now in the squad with competition in a number of positions.

“I suppose at times you have to challenge yourself. If you sit on your laurels, you can be out of the team and if the person that replaces goes well you can be out of the team for a long period.”

Having endured some pretty dark days through injury and adversity, including having half the 2014 and then most of the 2015 seasons written off, the last two years have been good for the 27-year-old Billinger – on and off the field, capping a busy autumn by getting married two weeks after the World Cup final.

He said: “The World Cup was a fantastic experience. After 2016, when I was coming backing from two ACLs, I was probably thinking my time for a chance at having an international career was done.

“So when the call came in 2016 to be in the Four Nations squad I was taken aback. I was in a position then where I was just happy to be back on the field and enjoying my rugby and looking to prolong my career.

“But having played in that Four Nations it pushed me again into what I wanted to do, I was not taking anything for granted.

“Going into the World Cup was a fantastic experience, although it was frustrating I just kept thinking I’ve got to do the right thing as you never know what is going to happen and that proved to be.

“I got the chance to play in a World Cup final in front of my girlfriend, now wife, mum and dad and sister.

“It was appropriate as they are probably the people that have been through a lot of the bad times with me. To share that moment with them, even though it would have been better to do it with a win, was pretty special.”