St Helens look like a side with everything covered. All they need now is the trophy.
Captain: James Roby
Coach: Justin Holbrook
2017 Position: Regular season – 6th. Super 8s – Semi-finalists.
Key player – Ben Barba
Quite possibly Super League’s most talented player if he hits his straps, Ben Barba has been handed the No 23 shirt by St Helens this season.
The accompanying quote on the club’s website reads: “An iconic shirt number in world sport donned by the likes of David Beckham and Michael Jordan in their heyday.”
So, no pressure then Ben!
His St Helens career got off to a slow burner after the full-back served his drugs ban before finally making his debut at the back-end of the season. Barba showed glimpses, but never quite got up to the pace to really fire the Saints to glory, falling short in the semi-final against Castleford.
But with a full off-season behind him, there’s plenty of pressure on Barba’s shoulders to deliver this time round. He is a match-winner on his day with a skill set not many others in Super League possess. Barba should be a joy to watch in 2018.
St Helens vs Castleford Tigers
February 2, 2018, 7:30pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Fresh Face – James Bentley
Just the one new signing for St Helens in the off-season came in the form of talented youngster James Bentley from Bradford.
The second-rower already impressed coach Justin Holbrook when crossing for a hat-trick in the pre-season win over Sheffield Eagles.
He arrives with a good pedigree, coming through a Bradford academy renowned for producing quality players and in 2017 he won the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award.
Alex Walmsley says Castleford were the best team in Super League last year and is looking to facing them in St Helens' Super League opener
St Helens have struck gold signing from the lower divisions before in the form of Alex Walmsley, who has shone since joining from Batley.
Will Bentley be the next young England star off the rank?
One to watch – Danny Richardson
Will 2018 be the year Danny Richardson makes his mark? Pundits were tipping him for a big campaign in 2017, but it didn’t quite take off for Richardson who made just 11 appearances in Super League and failed to make one of the half-back spots his own.
But Justin Holbrook has made it perfectly clear the 6 and 7 slots are up for grabs in 2018, with Richardson just as capable as more experienced campaigners Matty Smith and Theo Fages of grabbing a place.
And with Ben Barba taking the full-back slot, Jonny Lomax will also be in the mix in the halves. Richardson will have to grab any chance he gets with both hands. But certainly, he possesses the talent to do so.
Reasons for optimism
St Helens went close in 2017, without ever really showing their true quality throughout the course of the regular season.
But it took a golden point from Castleford to end their campaign in the semi-finals and that was after a late penalty sent the game into extra-time.
Just scanning through their squad makes for some scary reading for Super League rivals. They ooze quality. From Barba at full-back, to the star of 2017, Mark Percival, in the centres, and a pack containing the brute force of Walmsley and Kyle Amor plus the offloading abilities of Zeb Taia and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
They’ve got everything covered. All they need now is a trophy.
Reasons for concern
Will too many cooks spoil the broth? Holbrook has already admitted he will start with Barba as his number one choice at full-back. But that means trying to find a new home for a man good enough to take a bench spot for England in a World Cup final – Jonny Lomax.
A homegrown star, Lomax will have to adapt to different positions, most probably in the half-backs, giving Holbrook plenty of food for thought. We’ve already highlighted the quality of Danny Richardson above, while Matty Smith and Theo Fages will want plenty of game time as well.
Will Holbrook find it difficult to decide on a settled combination in the pivotal positions to the detriment of St Helens’ season? Time will tell.