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St Helens boss Kristian Woolf calls Huddersfield clash ‘toughest challenge yet’

David Charlesworth, PA
·4-min read

St Helens coach Kristian Woolf is braced for their “toughest challenge yet” this term at Huddersfield despite the sides’ contrasting starts to the Super League season.

While Saints, who will be without Tom Makinson at the John Smith’s Stadium because of a foot injury, have begun the defence of their title with a hat-trick of successive wins, the Giants have lost all three of their fixtures.

But Woolf is taking nothing for granted and insists complacency will not be a factor, recognising their wounded opponents would relish the opportunity to open their account against the reigning champions.

Kristian Woolf, left, admitted the loss of Tom Makinson - even for only a week - is a blow for Saints (Richard Sellers/PA)
Kristian Woolf, left, admitted the loss of Tom Makinson – even for only a week – is a blow for Saints (Richard Sellers/PA)

“I look at it as potentially our toughest challenge yet,” the Australian said. “I think if you look through the Huddersfield squad, they’ve got a very classy squad. Across the board, they’re a team with some real quality.

“When you do lose a couple of games you get a real steel about wanting to turn that around and that’s what I’d expect them to have this week.

“On the flip side we’re confident and have a real steel about what we want to do and for the competition as a whole.

“We certainly expect teams to come and be at their best when they play us, that’s what we get every week, it’s certainly what we’ve got the last few games and I wouldn’t expect any different this weekend.”

Forward Sione Mata’utia comes back after completing concussion protocols and while it is anticipated Makinson will return to contention next week at Leigh, Woolf admitted even a short stint on the sidelines is a blow for Saints.

Sione Mata’utia, centre, is back for St Helens (Martin Rickett/PA)
Sione Mata’utia, centre, is back for St Helens (Martin Rickett/PA)

As well as being one of the league’s most prolific try-scorers in recent years, the England winger assumed kicking responsibilities at the start of the campaign amid a couple of absentees, succeeding with 12 of 15 attempts.

“One of the things I love about Tommy is his confidence,” Woolf said. “We started the year with Lachlan Coote and Mark Percival out, so we were talking about who can kick and Tommy just put his hand up straight away.

“I don’t know how many he has missed, it hasn’t been many that’s for sure. He’s looked good every time he’s struck it.

“He’s outstanding. He’s a good defensive player, he’s a good catcher as a winger, he can finish for you and do the hard work, his all-round game and his influence on us is really big and we will miss him, no doubt there at all.”

Wigan, who announced this week Jackson Hastings will head to the NRL at the end of the season, are set for just their second competitive fixture at the DW Stadium in 13 months as they welcome Castleford, with both teams putting their 100 per cent winning starts to the season – in both Super League and the Challenge Cup – on the line.

Bevan French returns for Wigan against Castleford (Mike Egerton/PA)
Bevan French returns for Wigan against Castleford (Mike Egerton/PA)

Coach Adrian Lam said: “We’ve missed playing at DW Stadium, we miss our fans, we can’t wait till it’s back to normal. It’s an opportunity for us to build a reputation here at the ground again. We want it to be a fortress.”

While Jesse Sene-Lefao is suspended for Castleford and Gareth O’Brien has a knee injury, Lam has Liam Byrne back from a ban and Bevan French is included after missing the Warriors’ win at Leeds with a twinge in his lower back.

“He’s ready to play,” Lam added of the former Parramatta Eels full-back. “I wouldn’t assume that Bevan will be playing his best rugby in game one, but this is Bevan French, remember, so he might come out and score a hat-trick.

“Fingers crossed he hits the ground running.”

Dom Manfredi would have been in contention this week but took a knock to his hand while Wigan captain Thomas Leuluai has been included in the squad despite struggling with a sore sternum.