SAINTS' pre-season training is well under way with a new look side ready to take the field in 2019 and go one better than last term.

After storming through last year, Saints had to settle for the League Leaders Shield.

Coach Justin Holbrook is hoping that the addition of Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo, plus the return of Alex Walmsley, will make that difference in the big games.

Most of the 17 picks itself, but the biggest question mark will be how Holbrook adjusts his bench and how many big men he will go with, which ones and what role he has for Theo Fages.

1. Lachlan Coote

Stepping into the boots of Steve Prescott Man of Steel Ben Barba may be not the unenviable task it was pre-August. In Scottish World Cup player Lachlan Coote will provide something different to the full back berth. Although not as exciting and unpredictable with the ball as Barba, the experienced former North Queensland Cowboy will provide something more reliable at the last line of defence.

An NRL Grand Final winner with the Cowboys in 2015, left-footer Coote will add variety to Saints’ kicking game and experience and guile marshalling the defence and chiming into the attack.

2. Tommy Makinson

Makinson has undoubtedly been the man of the autumn, even if New South Wales coach Brad Fittler cannot quite place him. In the test series again the Kiwis, Makinson carried on doing what he had been doing in the red vee throughout 2018 with some exquisitely polished off touchdowns and a catalogue of try-saving tackles, being the icing on the cake of the industry he provided at the start of sets.

Hopefully, that hat-trick at Anfield and the fillip of being named Golden Boot will mean Makinson will bounce into 2019 with renewed vigour.

3. Kevin Naiqama

Makinson will have a new centre partner, with Fiji test captain Kevin Naiqama brought in from the NRL to provide dynamism, excitement and experience. Having been blessed with a potent left edge for some time, Naiqama’s arrival – with Ryan Morgan heading to London – will give Saints a potent balance across the backline.

4. Mark Percival

A top-notch centre, who matures into a team leader with each passing year, Percival continues to improve on both sides of the ball. His tackling is deceptively strong and his ability to breach the line with his piercing runs is a major asset to the team. He certainly knows his way to the try-line and was unlucky not to make it into Wayne Bennett’s test team against the Kiwis.

5. Regan Grace

Grace has something you cannot coach into players – blistering pace. It is a quality that opposition has to take into account when shuffling their defence across the right edge, and may have contributed to the opportunities Percival has managed to snaffle for himself. After playing virtually non-stop since breaking into the first team on Good Friday 2017, including a trip to the World Cup, Grace sat out the Wales autumn qualifiers.

Hopefully that additional rest and pre-season will be beneficial as he develops. He was noticeably tested in defence last year, but became much more confident under the high ball and has become increasingly more robust in his defence.

Grace is a majestic finisher, and if he and Percival can work on their telepathy, Saints will have a lethal as well as exciting left edge.

6. Jonny Lomax

Lomax showed his versatility during a fantastic 2018, capping a Dream Team selection at six, with a top-notch display at full back for England against the Kiwis. He certainly made the doubters eat their words and raised the question as to whether he had been moved from the halves too prematurely in 2013.

He revelled in playing at the line, and although a copped a few for his trouble, he provided the assist for 16 tries and crossed 17 times himself.

The arrival at Coote at full back brings certainty – if any was needed – that Lomax will continue in the stand off role in what will be his testimonial year.

7. Danny Richardson

The 22-year-old Widnesian dislodged the vastly experienced Matty Smith from the scrum half berth last year having been given the chance at the start of it and never relinquishing his grip.

Richardson made a blistering start to the season – and his nerves of steel and accuracy with the boot provided the match-winning touches at Leeds and at home to Warrington.

With traits and skills to be a top-notch number seven, there will be aspects of his game that he will be better having experienced big-game pressure at the end of the year.

8. Alex Walmsley

Having missed most of 2018 with a broken neck bone, Walmsley’s return (should he get the all clear from the scan on Friday) will be like having a new recruit.

A destructive ball carrier and the biggest man on Saints’ books, there were big games last year when Saints sorely missed having a big man to put a dent in the opposition line – most notably in the Challenge Cup semi.

Justin Holbrook’s biggest question mark will be how best to use him – whether to start him or bring him off the bench - especially since the reduction of the interchanges from 10 to eight.

And the other big question will be who to have working in tandem with Walmsley, with Holbrook saying recently that plenty would like to be the player ‘taking carry after Big Al’. You could see that straight, quick runner Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Jack Ashworth and Matty Lees would all fancy making hay off the back of that.

9. James Roby

Mr Perpetual Motion, who at 33 shows no signs of slowing down. A shoulder injury, however, impacted on him at the end of the season – but that has now been rectified with surgery.

The biggest question with the nine spot will be how much he will be spelled to increase his longevity.

10. Luke Thompson

Thompson enjoyed a blistering season for club and country, with a clean sweep of the club awards and announcing his arrival on the international scene with some towering displays in a test jersey.

One player who really raised his game in the absence of Walmsley, it will be fascinating to see them both playing back together.

Holbrook’s biggest question will be how to play both together, given the varying skills, size and experience of the other middles.

11. Zeb Taia

Taia provides experience to the pack and is always speaking to the players around him. He will continue to work on Saints’ left edge with Mark Percival and Regan Grace.

12. Dominique Peyroux

Arguably the most improved Saints player under Holbrook, Peyroux brought aggressive defence and penetration to Saints right edge.

His absence, with a broken arm, underlined his often unheralded value to the team, coinciding with Saints’ post August wobble. Although he returned at the end, he will have had an off-season to get fully fit.

13. Joseph Paulo

Marked out as a player who brings the hand of a half with the punch of a prop, experienced NRL back row Paulo will replace the departed former skipper Jon Wilkin as the link man at 13.

His experience, and ability to take the tough carries when needs be, is key part of the team that Holbrook is slowly rebuilding to his liking.


14. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook

The versatile Londoner had a tremendous 2018, upping his metre-making to 2922 last term and bringing energy and enthusiasm to Saints’ pack.

With Paulo expected to play more minutes at 13, Holbrook has already suggested that LMS could play more time at prop.

15. Morgan Knowles

Another player who spelled at 13 last year, the Welsh international may also be spelled to give Dom Peyroux a breather in the second row or James Roby a minute at nine.

After two years of back-to-back rugby, Knowles may have benefited from a good off-season having sacrificed his Wales duties in autumn.

16. Matty Lees

The silver lining of the dark cloud of Walmsley absence was allowing Matty Lees his breakthrough into the first team.

A strong, direct runner in the fearless up and at em runner in the mould of Nick Fozzard and an aggressive defender, Lees is only going to get better as he matures physically.

He backed up a strong year, in which he was nominated for the Super League Young Player of the Year, with a strong tour with the England Knights.

He will be looking to nail down his Saints spot ahead of the more experienced personnel in the squad.

17. Luke Douglas

Not in the same eye-catching mould as Walmsley and Thompson, Douglas is nevertheless a big man, who takes some pulling down and who has a fair bit of nous. Watch how the long-serving Australian uses his footwork just before the tackle to ensure he lands on his front and gives a quick play-the-ball to benefit the next ball carrier.

After a long career in rugby league, the Scottish international suggested that 2019 would be his swansong season.

Plan B

18. Theo Fages

That is a forward dominated bench, possibly taking into account the reduction in interchanges. All will definitely play, even if you add in Kyle Amor or Jack Ashworth,  if Holbrook goes with four big fellas.

But he has already stated that some weeks he will go with all forwards, but on other occasions he will go with three depending on his starting 13 and the opposition.

And a different school of thought suggests that having a player with Theo Fages’ footwork could take advantage of tiring legs in the middle and offer something different if the game needs breaking up.

There will be a strong lobby to include the versatile Frenchman, who can play in the halves or at nine, on the bench and there were howls when he was left out of the side for the Super League semi defeat.

By including him on the bench the coach will have to decide ahead of the game that Roby will be coming off at point X otherwise it becomes a waste of an increasingly precious bench spot.

Equally Fages could work in tandem with Roby in the nine and 13 roles, as has happened in the past to give another awkward customer to handle in the middle.

Kyle Amor and Jack Ashworth, who impressed last term, will get their fair share of games, given their attributes and the demands of the middle.

And it will be up to them to take some shifting if they get hold of that shirt.

And Adam Swift is a strong set-starter on the wing who will keep Makinson and Grace on their mettle. But he will be one of a number of players who will need Saints’ dual reg arrangement to get game time and keep up to speed for when opportunity knocks.

Joe Batchelor and James Bentley are works in progress and will both be waiting in the wings for a chance in the second row, as will centre Matty Costello and young nine Aaron Smith.