As of tonight, Kristian Woolf’s journey as St Helens’ head coach will get underway, as Salford Red Devils visit the Totally Wicked Stadium for their 2020 season opener.
Justin Holbrook ended what had been a fantastic tenure back in October as the 44-year-old left for the bright lights of the Gold Coast after a successful couple of years in the North-West, claiming back-to-back league leaders’ shields and a Grand Final.
However, it is time for a fresh face and before the Australian Woolf arrived in Merseyside, he managed the unthinkable task of taking his Tonga side to fourth in the rugby league world rankings and overcoming the Aussies for the first time ever back in November.
However, his mind has switched to Super League as the ‘entertainers’ aim to pick up where they left off.
Despite a fresh face in the dugout, St Helens’ squad remains mainly untouched from the side who defeated Salford to claim Super League supremacy, with just five names leaving the club in the off-season.
Danny Richardson moved across the Pennines to Castleford, with Adam Swift also leaving for Hull FC. Whilst Ryan Morgan, Luke Douglas and Liam Cooper all made their way to the exit door.
Surprisingly, with other teams around them strengthening, Woolf has opted against making any permanent signings during the winter, as he hopes to emulate the team spirit that guided Saints to 2019 glory.
Winger Tommy Makinson will be hoping he can replicate his sensational 2019 campaign, in which he claimed both top try scorer and top metre maker. The 28-year-old ended the campaign with a well-earnt 23 Super League tries, whilst making 3803 metres – 40 more than Jackson Hastings in second.
Last season’s Harry Sunderland winner, Luke Thompson, was labelled the “best in the world” by former head coach Justin Holbrook, after his hard-hitting Grand Final performance where he made a massive 42 tackles and 27 carries. Woolf will be hoping that forward pair Thompson and Alex Walmsley can reach new heights in the forthcoming year.
Lachlan Coote arrived in the North-West with a big reputation and it is fair to say that the fullback lived up to the hype. Running over 17 tries, the Australian was one of the main reasons Holbrook’s side looked so strong in 2019. With one season under his belt, Coote will be hoping he can kick on and cement his position as one of the league’s best number ones.
Quick, nimble and great vision are all the attributes needed to make a sensational halfback, and Jonny Lomax has them in abundance. The England and Great Britain star danced his way over the try line 19 times in 31 appearances in 2019 and is definitely a player to keep an eye on in 2020.
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Two tricky rounds beckon for St Helens as a mouth-watering clash with a new-look Salford Red Devils is followed by a local derby in Cheshire against Warrington.
A massive overhaul in the Winter has seen much of the Salford side that played out such a terrific 2019 leave, with notable stars such as Logan Tomkins, Josh Jones and Man of Steel Jackson Hastings all heading for the exit door.
However, with the introduction of experienced halfback Kevin Brown; former Warrior Dan Sarginson and ex-London Broncos pair Rhys Williams and Luke Yates, they are not a team to underestimate.
The week after sees a trip to Warrington as old foes reunite for what will be a tense encounter at the Halliwell Jones.
Despite a battling performance against a resolute Wigan, Steve Price and his side fell to an opening night defeat at the DW.
Chris Hill will miss out on the clash due to his early red card yesterday evening, however, the Wire are not a team to take lightly.
With the likes of Matty Ashton, Stefan Ratchford and Blake Austin at the back, and hard-hitting forwards such as Ben Murdoch-Masila and Mike Cooper, Warrington’s deadly creative talent and powerful front line can be quite formidable.
Super League sponsors Betfred have ranked Saints the favourite to reclaim both the league leaders’ shield and Grand Final, placing Kristian Woolf’s side 7/4 and 5/2 respectively.
Sky bet have also see Saints reclaiming their crowns, placing them at 5/2 to win the Grand Final and 6/4 for the league title.
Featured image – Platy Photos