With pre-season well underway and the Super League campaign just over three weeks away from getting underway players are itching for game time.
That’s the case at St Helens according to coach Paul Wellens who has been giving a pre-match press conference ahead of Mark Percival’s testimonial match on Friday.
Saints are set to host Widnes in their second game of the pre-season, although it will be the first to feature the first team given that the group that faced Championship side Swinton on the weekend comprised of the reserves.
In his pre-match presser, Wellens stated: “As coaches, and also the players, you get to the point where you want to get out there and start playing and that’s where we’re at, particularly the guys that started training in November.”
Wellens also offered an update on those who won’t feature and sadly the man of the moment, Mark Percival, won’t play with Wellens having opted to give him the extra rest following his knee injury and instead prioritising him for the World Club Challenge, as reported here.
“There are a number of players who I’ve decided, after talking with the medical staff, that we aren’t going to play this week.
“The guys that fall into that category are the England World Cup players, given their extended season last year and the pressures of the World Cup we’ll afford them the opportunity to have a couple more weeks rest which I feel we’ll get the benefit of down the track.”
That admission will mean that Joe Batchelor, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Tommy Makinson and Jack Welsby will all miss out on their teammates testimonial.
Wellens added more names to the list: “Will Hopoate is back in training with the team and making great progress but we won’t be taking any unnecessary risks. He’s too much of an important player going forwards.
“As will James Roby, he’s probably the last player in rugby league who needs another game right now so James will sit that out, making a great opportunity for Joey Lussick and Taylor Pemberton to get some valued gametime there.”
On Percival’s exclusion Wellens commented: “It may come as a surprise to a few but Mark won’t play in his own testimonial game.Quite often when you don’t pick a player to play it is because you feel they are carrying a knock, actually in Mark’s case it’s quite the opposite.
“He has come back into training with the team and it’s great to have him back, he’s training really well, hitting all his markers what the medical staff have set him.
“Mark understands the bigger picture thinking and how important he is to the team moving forward. We need a fit and firing Mark Percival early on, not just as we go to Australia, but the rest of the rounds in 2023.”
Saints had shared footage of the presser to their Twitter page.
🎥 Watch Paul Wellens' first pre-match press conference as Head Coach of the Saints, as he looks ahead to @MarkPercival22's testimonial game on Friday night
Subscribers can watch the full video on Saints TV
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) January 24, 2023