St Helens coach Paul Wellens says centre Mark Percival will be key to his side’s success after the star penned a new deal with the club this week.

Saints kick off their 2024 Super League campaign this evening against newly-promoted London Broncos in a game they will be expected to win.

Percival, who has been at the club since he was just 14, penned a contract extension that will keep him at the club till the end of the 2026 season.

Wellens said: “One of the most important things for us is the retention of our better players and in Mark Percival, we certainly have that.

“He’s one of the most elite centres in the competition. He has been for a number of years, not only a brilliant player but a great person to have around so I’m delighted that he’s extended his stay.”

The 29-year-old has spent his entire career with the club and his manager believes the stalwart to be a vital member of the squad.

Wellens added: “Why the best players are the best players is because they get both aspects of the game right. Obviously in Mark’s case he does the tough stuff really well, he carries the ball really strongly.

“On top of that you’ve got a player who’s got a high level of quality and he can find space where you think there isn’t any. As a wingman, he’s the type of centre you’d love to play outside because his skills are that good.”

Saints head into the season not be defending the title for the first time since 2019 but Wellens insisted their ambition is still the same.

He said: “Some people may view the fact that we didn’t win last year as a dynasty come to an end and the challenge for us now is too flip that on its head and show that we are as competitive as ever and as hungry as ever and that we still have ambitions to be successful.”

Their opponents this evening are the bookies’ favourites to be relegated as they return the Super League after five years away, but Wellens insisted the away side should not be taken for granted.

“They’ve (Broncos) had a fantastic 12 to 18 months, Mike Edwards has galvanized them as a group and got them pulling in the right direction. They certainly upset a few teams last year. We have to respect them,” he said.

The boss is yet to finalise his squad for tonight’s home fixture but understands he’ll need his full squad, all year and has “some tough calls to make.”

He is still in search of his first title as head coach and was quick to bring attention the commitment shown in his squad over the years:

He said: “There’s been a real commitment from a number of players, could they have perhaps gone elsewhere and earned more money, probably.

“But there’s a connection to wanting to do something different, they’ve all sacrificed in some way, but the bonds they’ve built and the success they’ve had playing together, no amount of money can buy that and hopefully we can create some more special memories moving forward.”

The game kicks off at 8pm at The Totally Wicked stadium.