SAINTS skipper James Roby is approaching his 19th and probably last Super League season.

Having skippered the club to three successive Grand Finals, the 36-year-old is showing no signs of dropping any standards and remains as hungry as ever to win what would be his sixth winners' ring.

The Star's Mike Critchley caught up with him after training to discuss pre-season, his longevity, the hooking role, his hunger for more success and a career bookended by silverware with a tough bit in the middle.

 St Helens Star:

MC: How is your 19th pre-season going - you must've seen quite a few changes since 2003/04?

JR: It is going good, all going to plan, and I am feeling healthy. It is going well generally for the team too.

Pre-season campaigns have changed a little bit over the years and we are pretty fortunate at St Helens that they use a lot of sports science and data to manufacture the loads they put us under as players.

In that respect it minimises injuries. It has been well documented that we don’t have to do the sand dunes any more.

St Helens Star:

Pre-season is spent predominantly on the field with a ball, with a lot of up/downs and short bursts of intense conditioning.

MC: Has the development of the science been the biggest difference you have seen your first years as a pro?

JR: There is more understanding and everything can be modified to suit the individual, even if 90 per cent of the time everyone will do a pretty similar weights, conditioning drill and contact drill.

There is a lot of planning going on behind the scenes with the staff that we don’t see as players.

They will design sessions where we run a certain amount of kilometres on a Monday and then devise one for a Tuesday and Thursday, then marry that up with the load we are doing with our weights programme.

St Helens Star:

Certain days will be big days and during pre-season we work our way up with the weekly load getting bigger coming into Christmas. We are still going pretty high- but that will begin to taper down as we get ready for the season.

MC: Did the pre season game allow you to tweak any aspects of your training ahead of the big kick off?

JR: Everyone feels better to have played a bit of game time. For me personally you do pre-season get to Christmas and then almost start again.

But I just want to get going with the routine of the season and get the games coming. I think a lot of the lads, staff included, are like that.

St Helens Star:

It was good to get the game with Leigh and that it was a tough game, too, and it was not a big scoreline.

The first 15 minutes were fast and really physical and I was surprised – Leigh turned up to play and so we got more out of that than a bits and bobs session.

The game allows us to keep tweaking and refining what we are doing to be in a good condition for that first game.

St Helens Star:

MC: Injury wise you were getting a lot of niggles in 2018/19 and some thought that was going to be it, but that has been followed by three title winning seasons. What has been the key to that rejuvenation?

JR: I am not as sharp as I used to be and with my age I can’t do things I used to be able to do.

Generally I have been lucky with injuries throughout my career and the most challenging one was the groin that rumbled on through those two years you mention.

Luckily after 2019 we managed to get the correct surgery, get it sorted and the first lockdown did me the world of good because we were sat at home for 16 weeks, just keeping moving in the garden.

I think I needed that time to just settle and heal. When we came back from that initial lockdown in the summer of 2020 my body was in a good condition and healed. Since then I have just cracked on as normal.

St Helens Star:

MC: At 9 you are in a position where you have to defend tough in the middle, but be sharp and energetic from dummy half and overcome fatigue to pick the right passes. It is quite a testing role.

JR: You don’t get a minute. There is not a moment to relax but saying that there is nowhere you can do that in a rugby game now, the way it has developed.

It is non-stop all of the time and if you don’t do your job you will get found out – or a chink in your armour will be spotted and there will be an effect of points further down the line.

St Helens Star:

But 9 is obviously a very tough position. You are defending in the middle so you are doing a lot of tackling, then you have got to follow the ball around in attack, hit the right passes, give the team a bit of direction and then provide an attacking threat as well.

You have to keep your mind switched on and keep alert. You have to stay calm among the chaos, have the robustness to deal with the tackles and stay pretty fit to keep going for the full game. But that is similar to a lot of positions.

St Helens Star:

MC: Does winning the last three Super League titles allow you the opportunity to savour what could be your last season without the pressure to win that maybe some of your predecessors as skipper had?

JR: You could look and say we have won three in a row, pressures off, and people may forgive us for not winning four if we were not to go on and be successful this year.

But myself as a person and a player, and us as a team and a culture, we know what we are capapble of and what our standards are.

If we keep continually hitting them, week on week, I am confident we’ll be there or threreabouts again.

I am not thinking ‘pressure is off’ I want to enjoy this last season, of course, but I would love nothing more than to go out with a bang and win it again.

I don’t want to let up one bit – I want to keep challenging as much as I can.

St Helens Star:

MC: If you look at your career, it has been bookended by silverware from the start to the last few years, but what did you learn from those bits in the middle that were often very challenging?

JR: It is a tough question really, but I suppose it has made me thankful and to appreciate the success and trophies when it does come.

I had a good spell there in the middle where we never really achieved much and it is not much fun, especially when you are at a club like St Helens where we are expected to succeed and to be challenging for trophies.

It was pretty tough sometimes, but I would like to think that myself and a number of other lads have got on with the job, It probably just showed, stick to your characteristics and attitude; your loyalty and your effort, and tides will turn.

St Helens Star:

We had a tough patch there in the middle part of my career, but I would like to think that the resilience and the attitude then – from the players who are still around – we have played a bit of a part in shaping where we are now.

The lesson is appreciate it and keep working hard.

Part 2 of the interview with James Roby will be available to Star subscribers tomorrow. And there will be a double-page feature on the Saints skipper in this Thursday's 16-page pull-out.