No one is better to dish out advice to the St Helens class of 2023 than head coach Paul Wellens.

Wello, a one-club man, who has progressed through every rank at the club was full of praise at the achievements of the under 18s Academy, who this year won the championship….but far, far more importantly saw FIVE players progress to the full time squad ahead of the 2024 season.

Academy rugby is not just about winning games and trophies…albeit some coaches will disagree.

It’s about developing players and people, who will hopefully run out in the Betfred Super League, or even the lower divisions for years to come.

Leon Cowan, Will Roberts, Noah Stephens, Dayon Sambou and the outstanding England Academy captain, Jonny Vaughan, will all join the first team squad on full time contracts.

What an opportunity…and that’s exactly what it is - an opportunity to achieve your childhood dream, an opportunity to represent one of the biggest clubs in RL, an opportunity to make a great living doing something you love. The hard work starts NOW!

Signing a contract is the very start, but for these lads now it’s all about their sheer commitment, discipline, single-mindedness, desire to develop and a bit of luck!

I’ll never forget my introduction into first team training as a 16-year-old at Warrington. Running out alongside the likes of the great Jonathan Davies, Greg Mackey and Bruce McGuire. I loved it!

If I had one bit of advice for the young fellas, go out there and back your ability. Don’t stand in the wings like the new kid, force yourself on the team, with humility of course...but show that you want to progress.

If you can win the conditioning them! Senior players respect that winning only have to look at the emergence of George Delaney in 2023.

That now takes the home-grown Academy products in the first team squad to an impressive 18 players now. Kudos to the clubs development pathway.

One player I’m very much looking forward to watching progress is that of Jonny Vaughan.

I’ve watched Jonny grow up through his successful martial arts career, later switching to rugby league and going on to captain England Academy earlier this year.

He’s clearly got that competitive spirit and drive to make it in this game. Something they’ll all need in their first senior pre-season!

Still looking at the future of our game, and it was obviously great to see England complete the 3-0 whitewash of, frankly an abysmal Tongan side.

I was critical of both teams in the opening two test, but thankfully for England we saw a far more improved performance in the 26-4 drubbing at Headingley.

Still at times not brilliant, but a much more connected display by the home team, orchestrated by Man of the Series, Wigan’s Harry Smith.

Smith, not the biggest run threat in the Betfred Super League, but what he can do is lead the team around the field, and do something the Tongans could only dream about…execute a clinical kicking game.

Harry has had his doubters over the last couple of seasons, but you have to praise his resilience and endeavour. He’s a great kid, and deserves the plaudits.

Smith produced one of the moments of the series, a 65th minute pinpoint cross field kick into the hands of Harry Newman, who scored England’s final try on his home ground.

As always, it’s always nice to see my Betfred prediction come in too!…I tipped England to win by more than 18pts (at 7/2)- let’s hope plenty of Fred’s punters took my advice and cleaned up!

Well, it’s great to finish this year's column on a positive, and now all focus turns to the Betfred Super League 2024.

I’ll be back early Spring, giving you the lowdown on all the runners and riders ahead of no doubts another tightly contested Betfred Super League season.

Current champions the Wigan Warriors are the early favourites to win the Grand Final (9/4 at Betfred) with Saints at 11/4, Leeds at 15/4, Catalans and Warrington (both 8/1) while Leighare out to 16/1. Looking to disagree? See you soon!