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Paul Wellens reveals team selection philosophy for NRL friendly

Super League is set to start a week from today and the defending champions won’t be playing in the opening round, four time consecutive winners St Helens are down under to contest the World Club Challenge.

Before the matter of facing NRL premiers Penrith Panthers the Red Vee from England will be facing another side labelled the Red Vee, with their pre-season challenge game slated against St George Illawarra Dragons.

“The Red Vee vs the Red Vee down in Wollongong makes for a great occasion,” head coach Paul Wellens told BBC Radio Merseyside.

“We expect they will play a few first team players, one thing I’ve stressed to the playing group is that whoever plays we have to perform the way that we perform and get excited about the challenge it presents us.

“We certainly hope they play a number of first team players, it’d be much better for us the stronger they are but we obviously don’t make decisions for St George.”

The NRL pre-season challenge got underway this morning with New Zealand Warriors hammering Wests Tigers 48-12 and St Helens will face St George in the first of their two games in the competition on Saturday morning at 9:05, the second game being the big one against Penrith the following Sunday.

Wellens continued: “It’s great preparation for us, it’s important to get some time on the field particularly in different conditions. It’s a game where we can kind of acclimatise, it’s also an opportunity for the squad to perform. What I’ve seen since we’ve arrived is real excitement.”

The Pre-Season challenge has slightly different rules to the NRL in terms of scoring, and also offers a $100,000 prize as opposed to a trophy, but a key rule regards rosters with teams being able to name 28 players and Wellens has stated he’ll capitalise on this and use the depths of his squad.

“All 26 players are going to get a game on Saturday because I think it’s important, obviously there’s the final against Penrith but this is a big game for us as well. We’re going to have to be smart about introducing players into the game, we’ve got a plan and that will allow all 26 players to take the field on Saturday.

“Players like Mark Percival and Will Hopoate will play at the weekend, not the full 80 minutes but they will play, but they’re not on their own there.

“What I’ve stressed is that we’re actually still in pre-season, the training volume has had a pre-season approach to it. It certainly can look like a holiday at times with pictures on beaches but I can assure those Saints fans it’s been anything but a holiday, we’ve done a lot of hard work whilst over here.”

Despite the admission it’s not a holiday they have invited one man into the camp who will be able to show them around the local tourist attractions, with Wellens revealing that former Saints legend James Graham has open access to the squad.

“I’ve kind of given him open-door access to our training environment, he can come and go as he pleases. He’s a great guy and someone that the lads have a huge amount of respect for, not just what he achieved in the game in the NRL but also St Helens. Certainly from the impact he had when he came over for that one year in 2020, I think their respect for him grew a lot off the back of that.”

When Graham had linked up with the squad he spoke to SaintsTV about the prospect they face on Saturday.

“I’m really looking forward to watching Saints over here, it’s something that they’ve earnt and it’s going to start this Saturday against another of my old clubs in the Dragons. It’s great to see all the lads out here enjoying the sunshine.”

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