SAINTS coach Paul Wellens covered plenty of ground in the first Q&A since full training for 2024 got underway.

MC: As coaches you will now have to look at a number of new rules and the importance getting your tackles as well as post contact involvement right?

PW: I think it's something every coach will be looking into because rugby league at its best is an aggressive game and it's why people enjoy watching it.

They enjoy the physical side of the game, but obviously now there's certain things that you can and can't do that are different from the past, particularly around contact with the head.

We – and a lot of other players from the other clubs - will be looking at ways in which you can retain that level of physicality without putting yourself or any other players at risk.

That is the challenge for us and something we will continue to work hard on.

MC: For the first time in a long while there’s no Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook or James Roby on the training ground this time, is this an opportunity for your next group of leaders to step up?

PW: Yes, and with Will Hopoate retiring we lose another experienced player and so there’s been a shift in dynamic if you look at the leadership within the group.

But I am really confident that there’s a number of players already who have great leadership qualities and we are certainly looking for those guys to step up.

We have a good number of overseas players now – and all have a wealth of experience and have shown great leadership qualities and we’ll be calling on those guys to step up this year.

St Helens Star: Matt Whitley in training

MC: Matt Whitley has joined from Catalans - although blessed with second rows already what are Matt's attributes?

PW: He is a player we have admired for a while and we liked what he was about when he was a young lad at Widnes.

He did not let the disappointment of not quite getting through to our Academy here affect him.

He went away and continued to work hard. He did really well at Widnes and got an opportunity at Catalans, where in his time in the south of France he has really grown and matured as a player.

We get a top quality person and a top quality player coming into the prime years of his career.

MC: It creates even more competition in that back row though, doesn’t it?

PW: It was one of the positions last year where we did a lot of chopping and changing throughout the course of the year for a number of different reasons.

So having that strength in depth is something that is really important.

As we have seen in recent years Sione Mata’utia’s versatility has seen him in playing in the middle and at centre, Joe Batchelor has also played centre and Matt Whitley has shown he can do that at Catalans too so there is versatility as well.

Throughout the course of the year we are going to need players to put their hands up in different positions at times, but we are well covered in the second row. 

And you can also add in Sam Royle who did a great job when he stepped in last year.

MC: Is the way that George Delaney earned his opportunity and then secured his place, a signal to young props like McKenzie Buckley and Noah Stephens that if you do the right things and get your heads down the opportunities will come?

PW: I think so. People misconstrue things at times that it is me as Coach who gives players an opportunity.

I only give opportunities to people who earn them – and that is not just me as a coach, it has been policy under previous coaches as well.

It is important as a club we understand that anyone can get themselves in the team with what they do day-to-day, week-to-week basis showing a real level of consistency over a period of time.

George Delaney is a shining example of what you can achieve if you approach things in the right way want to work hard and have an appetite for learning. That is the challenge for every young player who has come into our squad this year.

It is not an easy team to get into so you have to make sure you do everything that you can to put yourself in the best position.

MC: There is still a vacancy at number 3, but are you happy with the overall balance of the squad – 1-32?

PW: It is a strong squad because, as a club, we are not reactive and we have got a plan in place over number of years of how a squad is going to look.

Like every year we look to promote from within which gives us strong options.

Obviously you mentioned there is still a vacancy there which we may fill should the right person come along.

But we have a strong squad going into next year and I am excited by the challenge that will present.

*(Interview conducted before the full RFL announcement on making the game safer.)