SAINTS now have two second row vacancies for 2022 after Joel Thompson revealed that he will leave at the end of the year.

The news came within a week of James Bentley deciding to join his home city club Leeds next year.

With a number of other players’ futures still up in the air, it will present the back-to-back champions with a challenging partial rebuild exercise ahead of next season.

Saints have extended a number of key players this year ­— with Jonny Lomax, Alex Walmsley, Regan Grace and Jack Welsby penning new deals already ­— but the constraints of the salary cap combined with other issues were always likely to bite.

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Saints boss Kristian Woolf accepts that filling those holes in the current climate present a challenge, but feels the club are capable of rising to that and describes the squad as stable going forward.

He said: “We had the same challenges at the back end of last year but certainly did well in being able to bring in people who we think have strengthened the club.

“Look at Sione Mata’utia and Agnatius Paasi and what they have added to the club as people – and what their families have added – on top of what they have added on the field. You can throw Joel into that, too.

"We have certainly done a good job there.

“Our biggest challenge is when you win two comps you are under pressure salary cap wise.

“Everyone’s value increases on the back of that because all of our players have played a part and they deserve an increase in terms of their value off the back of that.

“That is where the challenge is and that just gets bigger every that the club has success.

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“We don’t want to stop having success, but we understand as a salary capped sport sometimes players have to move on.

“Part of our role is to develop players, and they go to other clubs, and earn the contracts that set them up for the rest of their lives. We are very understanding of that.

“We are going to have a stable squad going forward if you have a look at the blokes who are still on contract, including the ones who have extended this year. And there are other conversations and extensions in the pipeline as well. We have a terrific group of blokes who are really driven, good people with a lot of success ahead of them if they keep progressing.”

“We want to keep them here, as Saints players, and the majority of the group are certainly going to do that.”

Although Thompson announced his departure this week, Woolf is confident that Saints can see him sign off what has been a top-drawer career strongly.

"Joel will leave a big hole that we are going to have to fill at some stage. He is a guy that came over with a great reputation and that brings expectation," Woolf said.

"We are going to have to fill that hole – but he is still here and he wants to finish the year really strongly with us and get back to playing the footy that he knows he is capable of and knows he can play.

"We are here to support him and his family in helping him do that."

Thompson's announcement came within days of Bentley's switch to Leeds being confirmed.

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Woolf added: "We are really disappointed to lose James.

"For the first couple of years here he was a developing player but over the last 18 months he has really cemented himself in the side and been a big part of the success we have had, particularly last year, and really developed as a player.

"He is a great player and bloke within the group and we all think highly of of and would have loved for him to stay, but there are a lot of things that go into contracts and the decisions.

"Salary cap is always an issue and when you win two competitions you develop salary cap pressure – and that is what it is there for, to make some of your good players go to other clubs.

"That is not the only reason – James is from outside Leeds and there was a real lure to go home.

"What we know with James is that we are going to get his absolute best for the back end of the year because he is that kind of competitor.

"All things aside, it was a really tough decision for him that took a really long time because he loves where he is and the group he is playing with.

"He will play his part in making sure we have as much success as we can in finishing the year.

He is a good footy player who plays with aggression, toughness and a good work ethic. A lot of the things we value and he fitted into our system really well.

"We are going to miss him – and we are definitely missing him at the moment – but that is footy and both he and us are going to have to move on from here and find a way of filling those two holes."

Pictures: Bernard Platt