SAINTS coach Paul Wellens was asked why he did not rotate the squad at London, how far Jonny Vaughan is away from a first team opportunity and for an assessment of the five young players called into the England Academy squad.

He also previewed the Salford game and gave an assessment on the block of tough games coming up in this article for Star subscribers.

MC: Did you consider rotating the squad and giving some of your younger players a shot in London?

PW: I can understand the reasoning behind it (asking for rotation) but given the fact that we have had numbers of weeks off in this period, I've got to prepare the squad for what is coming forward.

And that is a run of really tough games and I think the best preparation for that is for us to play and much as you can.

So that's the reason that I didn’t throw a whole host of young players in.

That and the fact that I didn’t want to underestimate London.

I can understand that people want to see young players get their opportunities, I am no different there but I have got to prepare the squad to not only to win games in the here and now but for what is coming forward.

We're getting enough time off as it is around the schedule for me to go and feel the need to to add to that.

(Image: Bernard Platt)

MC: It's a positive sign in a way that people are asking and looking forward to eventually seeing these players - particular Jonny Vaughan – who can’t be far off that call?

PW: I see it day in and day out, Jonny Vaughan and a whole host of young players are champing at the bit for an opportunity.

I think they see what's happened with Noah Stephens, who has had a chance and taken it with both hands.

They want that same opportunity. Look, I am excited and looking forward to giving those guys an opportunity but they have to be a little bit patient there.

It is not an easy team to get in to – and patience is going to be key for them.

But I absolutely love what these young players are bringing, day-in, day-out and what they're doing in training off the back of their attitude and how hard they're working, they're certainly really pushing me for opportunities which is exactly what I want them to be doing.

MC: You mentioned a tough run of games coming up starting with Salford, but with the likes of Wigan, Warrington and a newly resurgent Leigh will pose a real test to this squad?

PW: This is why I have approached the last few weeks in the way that I have.

I know we are down on numbers at the moment and will have no hesitation in playing these young players when the opportunity comes along – and if that is in these big games then I have every confidence that they will come in and do a good job.

We are very reliant on the squad at the moment given the number of players we do have out, but that excites me too on some levels.

I love the way the group has come together, it is playing with freedom and has taken on the challenge of missing senior players and handled it really well but we are going to have to do that again in coming weeks.

(Image: Bernard Platt)

MC: Salford are quite buoyant at the moment after what they did at Warrington. Two strong strike centres and a seven who can kick them around the field?

PW: Salford are a very tough team as we found out at home earlier on in the season.

They are playing well and I watched the game against Warrington last week and they are a very dangerous side.

Marc Sneyd is very effective in the way he manages the game and they have two big boys on each edge in Nene Macdonald and Tim Lafai.

They have a number of strike players as well with Kallum Watkins – a player who I have a huge amount of respect for and who has been doing the business for a long, long time.

He’s had a new lease of life.

They are a dangerous team and we are going to have to prepare really well for them if we are to get the right result.

MC: Despite numerous casualties – the team is arguably playing better at this moment having strung together a confidence-boosting run of four wins. Do you feel in a better place?

PW: Potentially we are playing better than we were in spring. From an attacking perspective, we've advanced our game there.

We've still retained our identity there in terms of direct carries but our support play has improved immensely and I think our ability to play a little bit off the cuff off the back of that has improved and that is something I want us to continue to work hard on.

It is going to be a tough game but I do feel that despite missing a big number of influential players that we are attacking better as a unit than we were back at the start of the campaign.


MC: This past few years there has been a quite a rivalry growing between the sides. The north west seems to be dominant at the moment?

PW: We have our main rivalry with Wigan and then Warrington as well, but you can throw Leigh and Salford into that now.

These games against local teams in and around us from a locality point of view are exciting games to be a part of.

And this game on Sunday is no different.

MC: This week saw five of the Saints Academy lads called up to the England squad. That is a positive sign for the future?

PW: It is a great recognition for us as a club and a great recognition for those young lads and how hard they have worked.

Billy Keeley, for example, is a younger age Academy player, and that is a fantastic achievement for him to get called up into that England squad.

Jake Davies is Ben’s brother and is someone we have high hopes for and has come in and trained a lot with us as well in recent times and has huge potential.

Harry Robertson, Owen Dagnall and George Whitby are three kids who have been around our squad for a bit now.

They came away on pre-season camp with us and are tremendous lads with huge ability and we are excited about those five players and what they can potentially do moving forward.

MC: How close are some of those to becoming full time first team squad members?

PW: Both Harry and George have both now started to integrate into squad and spend more time with us off the back of finishing their educational commitments.

It was important for them to do that.

Owen Daganall this week completed his last exam and beyond the international break will come and train more often with us as well.

It is great that those guys can come in and spend more time in and around the first team and doing things at a different speed and intensity to what they are used to on a consistent basis.

We feel that will accelerate their growth as players.

MC: Where is Harry Robertson's best position – is it halves or full back?

PW: I think he’s primarily a 6 or 1, but he’s also a good outside back who can do a job on the wing or centre.

What he is doing at the minute when he plays Academy rugby he looks a class above it and that is really pleasing. His performances have been excellent there.

He was given a place in the first team 21-man squad last week and that was on merit having been the standout player in the Academy in recent weeks – and when he has got the opportunity to play in the reserves he has not looked out of place and has been excellent.

MC: And sticking on the subject of halves how is Will Roberts progressing?

PW: He's done a great job in coming back from long term injury and played on the weekend at Swinton which was a great experience for him.

We are very keen for him to get more opportunities there to put himself in a position to, if required, to play for ourselves moving forward.

He’s a really well liked member of the group and always has a smile on his face and is training really well. Like a lot of you players in the squad he is putting his hand up for opportunities.

MC: Whatever you choose to do in the halves in replacing Lewis Dodd next year, whether you with Moses Mbye, does having three lads like those mentioned ready to come through in the next year, two or three give you confidence for future planning?

PW: What we will always do when replacing a Lewis Dodd for example is look through our system and see whether we have someone who can do that job.

Whether it is six months or 18 months time, that is what we will always look to. But we are always looking to strengthen the squad where we can.

We have three good young players there and many more in different positions who have the potential to go out and play first team, not just for a handful of games, but for many years just like Matty Lees, Jonny Lomax, Morgan Knowles and Mark Percival.

My job as a coach – and our role as a club – is to nurture these players to do that.

And we're excited about what they can bring at this moment in time.

MC: On recruitment, just looking at outside backs beyond what you have coming through how advanced are you, Mike Rush and Eamonn McManus in terms of identifying potential external recruits for next season?

PW: We are in constant dialogue in how we can improve the squad and it's finding that right balance between adding to the squad and strengthening the squad from externally. 

But there is also a discussion whether the young guys can fill some voids. I have every confidence the young players can do that - some are at a more advanced stage than others at the moment.