Will it be success or bust for Paul Wellens at St Helens?

One of the most interesting subplots of the 2023 Super League season is the appointment of Paul Wellens as St Helens’ new coach. The 42-year-old does, of course, have a long-running connection with the club that spans over two decades having spent 18 years as a player with the Saints before becoming an assistant coach at the Totally Wicked Stadium. With these unmatched credentials in mind, Wellens seems the perfect and perhaps even obvious replacement for outgoing head coach Kristian Woolf who, remarkably, oversaw the club’s fourth Grand Final win in a row in September.

Tellingly, St Helens are at just 2/1 in the latest rugby league betting odds to make it five consecutive titles which again, backs up the assumption that the club is in good hands with Wellens at the helm. Given this low price and the ongoing positive conversation around St Helens as the 2023 season draws nearer, fans could be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t any pressure attached to taking over from Woolf given that the Saints are regarded as the best Super League team in the modern era. In addition to this, there is also a growing amount of observers who would go as far as to say that this current side is the best in the history of the sport. Whatever your opinion might be on where this side ranks, the irrefutable truth is St Helens is an extraordinarily well-run team that appears to be on autopilot with its scheduled destination in 2023 being the winner’s podium to hoist aloft a fifth Super League trophy in as many years.

Could the St Helens job be the epitome of a poisoned chalice?

The intriguing reality, however, is that for all of the club’s momentum, the pressure on Wellens to ensure that St Helens wins an unprecedented fifth title will be intense. Admittedly, it may be unjust to call the position as head coach of this swashbuckling outfit the epitome of the poisoned chalice but at the same time, these trophy-laden years have seen a new level of expectation develop on the terraces of the club’s stadium. Needless to say, these high standards will undoubtedly come with their own set of unique challenges for any incoming coach.

It’s worth pointing out that Wellens has contributed towards this astonishing run of success but the position of assistant and head coach are worlds apart. Given that this is the case and now that Wellens has been handed the reins, it is only natural for the 42-year-old to want to leave his own mark on the side.

Indeed, the temptation for any inbound coach will be to showcase their distinctive brand of rugby but as four consecutive Grand Final wins prove, St Helens are a settled club in very little need of tinkering. Put another way, if it’s not broken, then there’s no need to fix it.

How does Wellens approach the job? 

So, does Wellens fight the desire to stamp his imprint on the side or does he leave the team to their own devices to carry on winning? Of course, there is every chance that Wellens’ input could help turn this team from great into invincible but the overall point is that altering anything at this stage would be a risk.

Far from this next chapter of St Helens’ history being one that is easy to predict, there will be a host of new dynamics in the changing room that could inspire another glittering season or bring to an end the most successful time in the club’s history.