THE Star’s Mike Critchley caught up with Saints boss Justin Holbrook at the training ground on Tuesday.

MC: Big Al did not come back on last Friday, was he ok?

JH: He is fine. He could have come back on but it was an opportunity to give the other guys some minutes.

We have not exactly nursed him through the start the of the year although we have eased him along and not had him playing big minutes.

We will step him up over the next few weeks.

MC: You had a couple of enforced changes last week?

JH: Matty Lees was a bit crook with tonsillitis and wanted to play, but I said no.

It was the same with Robes – he picked up a niggle which hurt a bit in training. He would have been all right to play. Like I said last week, I won’t rest anyone for no reason but if they have got a niggle then I won’t play them.

I have a lot of confidence in Aaron Smith playing; he has been fantastic, so there has been no need for Robes to play.

MC: When you see Aaron Smith play like that, it must re-assure you that he can be slotted in at 9 any time?

JH: Definitely, that’s why I did it and I would have done it more last year with him had he not suffered that shoulder injury against Catalans. I have no hesitation in playing him.

MC: You have included Aaron in the 19, does that mean you will bring him off the bench.

JH: Unlikely. If Robes pulls up all right tomorrow after training today then Aaron will miss out, but I won’t decide that until Thursday.

MC: Apart from one try from a kick at Salford, the team has gone 200 minutes shutting out the opposition. What is that down to?

JH: I am glad you said that because it is a massive effort.

What I ask the players to do defensively is not easy. They have got to work really hard because you don’t fluke those sorts of performances in defence.

It is a combination of a lot of things but above all else it is working hard, and they are doing that.

The way we are controlling the game really well and that is making it easier for our defence.

A lot of credit there for Theo, Jonny and Lachlan on how well we are controlling with the ball and then how well we are defending.

MC: Nice pass from Lachlan Coote for that Regan Grace try, he is showing those pieces of brilliance every week.

JH: Yes, and is going to get even better in combination when we add some more things in as the weeks go on.

I am happy with the way he is going.

MC: Looking at Thursday, Giants’ nine Kruise Leeming can be a handful – your predecessor here was a big admirer – and he seems to be getting even better.

JH: He is a very dangerous player out of dummy half and reminds me a bit of Daryl Clark.

He is a really elusive touch footy type player getting out of dummy half, a real jack in the box.

MC: You had the performance staff from Ulster Rugby here last week – how did that come about?

JH: They asked to come over, which was great. I personally love talking to other coaches in other sports – it was great that they wanted to spend a couple of days with us and that was a good sign that our staff and players are doing things well and people want to know.

I spoke to Ulster’s head coach on Skype afterwards and there were good reports back on what they had witnessed here.

They have given us the opportunity to go over there, which would be great if we could fit it in.

MC: Talking of coaches, that looked like a competitive post training football match among you (0n the training pitch).

JH: That was coaches getting revenge on the performance and medical staff today.

We played them last week and they touched us up, so today we got revenge.