Reigning Betfred Super League champions St Helens open up their defence of the title with a rematch of last years Grand final as they welcome a much-changed Salford Red Devils to the totally Wicked Stadium.
After what was a very successful year for the men in the Red Vee, with the only real hiccup being the surprise defeat to Warrington at Wembley The team comes into the season with the very rare position of not adding to the team that swept aside all before them last season.
The only real change is at the helm as last years coach of the year Justin Holbrook as returned to Australia and a head coachs job with the Gold Coast Titans, the Saints board have brought in the man that has helped steer the Tongan revolution on the international scene Kristian Woolf (pictured.
The 44 year old former Newcastle Knights assistant acknowledges that he is in different postion as coach’s normally inherit a troubled team, often in crisis, while he has walked into a team that won the league by a record margin last season.
“It's a little bit different,” Woolf said. “Most of the time you come to a new club because there have been problems and you're trying to fix things.
“Obviously, I'm coming into this club where you've got a terrific group of players, the coach has done a really good job beforehand and the habits are really good.
“We've talked about not trying to change things too much but trying to find little ways to evolve our game and be a little bit better.”
Resisting the chance to bring in new face’s, despite the fact he will start the season without recognised international such as Tommy Makinson, Morgan Knowles and skipper James Roby, Woolf decided to stick with the clubs excellent youth policy and promote from within!
“Looking through the roster and what they were capable of doing last year, and having a look at some of the young guys coming through, we certainly don't see the need to do that,” Woolf added
On the flip side, Salford have undergone some big changes over the winter break with last season’s Man of Steel Jackson Hastings off to Wigan along with centre Jake Bibby, there have been a host of arrivals at the AJ Bell stadium.
Ex England internationals Kevin Brown and Dan Sarginson top the list, that includes ex broncos pair Rhys Williams and Luke Yates among others.
Hopefully all pieces that will fit together for Head coach Ian Watson who won a number of admirers for moulding a side that could make the Grand final on his limited budget last time out.
“You would have liked to have the consistency to build on that but what we've got from what we've had to let go has been a real positive,” Watson said.
“I'd say we're a stronger squad than we were last year in terms of personnel. They're great characters and they're probably smarter rugby players.
“The new players have added to that environment, they have a desire to achieve and win something.”
St Helens Squad;
Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dom Peyroux, LMS, Matty Lees, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Joseph Paulo, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Matty Costello, Jack Welsby, Joe Batchelor, Lewis Dodd.
Niall Evalds, Kris Welham, Dan Sarginson, Krisnan Inu, Tui Lolohea, Kevin Brown, Lee Mossip, Joey Lussick, Gil Dudson, Pauli Pauli, Tyrone McCarthy, Sebastine Ikahihfo, Adam Walker, Greg Burke, Luke Yatez, Chris Atkin, Mark Flanagan, Josh Johnson, James Greenwood, Rhys Williams, Ken Sio.