THE selection of five young Saints in the 21-man England Academy squad to play against France early next month is a positive sign for the future of the club.

Saints head coach Paul Wellens welcomed the international call-ups of Owen Dagnall, Jake Davies, Billy Keeley, Harry Robertson and George Whitby to the squad that plays at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on Tuesday, 2 July.

And Wellens explained how the progress those players are making within the club is encouraging, following a well-worn path given the Academy production line has been the bedrock of the club’s success in the Super League era.

Wellens said: “Their selection 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.

(Image: Bernard Platt)

“And 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.”

As they begin to finish exams, some of those players are spending more time within the full time environment, training with the first team squad – and that augurs well for the future.

(Image: Bernard Platt)

“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,” Wellens said.

“Owen Dagnall 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.”

Following his remarkable seven-try performance in the Academy fixture against Huddersfield, Harry Robertson was called up into the first team squad for the trip to London.

Primarily a 6 or 1, but who can do a job on the wing or centre, the latest of the club’s Halton Farnworth Hornets juniors to progress is really catching the eye.

“At the minute when he plays Academy rugby Harry looks a class above it and that is really pleasing. His performances have been excellent there,” Wellens said.

“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.”

In a further promising sign for the future Will Roberts is progressing well on his return from long term injury – an ACL injury similar to that of Agnatius Paasi - and he played on the weekend at Swinton.

Wellens said: “We are very keen for him to get more opportunities 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.”

Without jumping the guns too far ahead, the home grown production progress of a number of young halves is a positive sign for the future – especially given the dearth of talent in this key role.

It may also figure in Saints’ decision making on how best to plan for the future without South Sydney-bound Lewis Dodd whom they had hoped to build their side around.

Although Moses Mbye has been doing a tremendous job in Jonny Lomax’s absence – and has put himself in the box seat to take the 7 shirt next year – having talented youngsters ready to come through in the next year, two or three will give the club’s recruitment planners confidence. 

Those players will continue to follow a well-worn path trod by all from Jonny Lomax down to Noah Stephens - that of continuing to work hard and develop and then take the opportunity when it presents itself.

Wellens said: “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.

“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 head 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.”