Sunday, 7 February 2010

A quick update and how do you solve a problem like St Helens

A rather quiet today on the trading front where the odds of all three games at kick off meant that I would want an initial small stake on the underdog although in all cases the outsider did not reach the odds that I would have expected. As it was, thanks to pre match trades in Wakefield and Warrington, I ended up with a very small profit in those games despite having greater green on the losers whilst the Salford v Hull KR game saw a small loss which was largely though in play lays of Hull KR at 1.1 (12 – 6) and 1.05 (18 – 6) which I’d be happy to take on every day of the week.

So, despite a losing day, I actually feel far more up beat than yesterday. I feel that performance will produce profits and not the other way round. So, whilst I felt I traded abysmally on Friday and Saturday, I actually felt that I traded well today and feel confident in asserting that making such judgements in the future should lead to nice profits.

I also continued my theme of trading the draw in Rugby Union and ended up with a small profit from the two televised games today although once again I ended up keeping a large green on the draw which amounted to nothing in the end!

So given that the post so far has been very short and as I am merely waiting for the Superbowl to begin given my decision to avoid Dancing On Ice, I thought I might take this opportunity to post on the problems that I feel St Helens are likely to encounter this season.

Now, I could write enough on this to crash my computer so I will try to keep it brief.

Saints’ problems, for mine, start with the midfield combination that Mick Potter is looking to use in 2010 in Kyle Eastmond and Leon Pryce. In Rugby League, nearly everything will go through your halfbacks and when you lack a controlling influence there, you shall struggle. It is very difficult for me to recall a successful side who lacked a chief organiser. Of course, that is not all you need but it would be like preparing a roast dinner but not including a meat dish. (Or meat substitute for vegetarians.)

Whilst both Eastmond and Pryce have exceptional ability and dynamic skills, neither is cut out for the organisational role. More are creative runners who will do their damage by taking on the line, albeit in different ways. The irony in all this is that Leon Pryce came to St Helens to assume the stand off role because he wanted greater responsibility. However, Saints fans will struggle to recall one game which Pryce has directly influenced in his time at Saints. He has had some exceptional performances, but these have come off the back of other players laying the foundation. Without that, he sinks quicker than quicksand and his otherwise poor effort will only stand out like a sore thumb in such a team.

Kyle Eastmond is one of the greatest natural talents to emerge in Rugby League in a long time, but like such naturally gifted players they have never really been tested on their way up to the game. Being such a fantastic athlete, Eastmond has always been able to rely on his physical skills to influence a game as opposed to being forced to develop the mental side of his game. More than any other young player in Super League, Eastmond has the ability to make your jaw drop, but that is not enough for a number 7. Especially one who is being asked to exert a controlling influence.

If you look at the other young talents at halfback in Super League, you will notice that Richie Myler has been paired with Lee Briers, who is one of the most intelligent players in the game. Sam Tomkins has Thomas Leuluai who can alleviate pressure from him and Wigan have also made an excellent signing in Paul Deacon, whose experience will greatly assist Tomkins in avoiding the second season syndrome.

Even Stefan Ratchford has the fortune of playing alongside Matty Smith, whilst inexperienced and raw himself, and Daniel Holdsworth who will play a more controlling game allowing Ratchford the freedom to express his natural ability.

In so many ways, Eastmond is so similar to Sean Long when he arrived at St Helens. A terrific athlete and outstanding broken field runner, but he could not control a game. However, he did not need to as Long was often paired with Tommy Martyn who would play this role, and he would also benefit from Keiron Cunningham and Paul Sculthorpe at the peak of their careers. Long would go on to become one of the best controlling halfbacks in Super League, and there is no reason why Eastmond won’t. However, this will take time and will also require help from his team mates.

Of course, St. Helens have a natural organiser who is not only a member of the first team squad but who is a regular member of the starting thirteen. A player who has displayed huge potential previously but has never quite managed to convert this into ability. Step forward Jon Wilkin.

It is no co-incidence that Saints’ best performance of 2009 came when Jon Wilkin was forced into playing 7 and assuming the controlling role. Like Lee Briers, Wilkin is one of the most naturally intelligent players on the pitch and it is the fact that Wilkin has never been able to assume this role that I believe has lead to him never fulfilling his potential. At the moment Wilkin is used as a wide player who gets through a lot of work and makes some good runs. But that’s like hiring Hugh Grant for a film and asking him to portray an American. Yes it can be done, but why waste what he is best at.

Wilkin has invariably been compared to Paul Sculthorpe throughout his career and whilst he lacks the athletic ability that Sculthorpe possessed, Wilkin is as naturally creative a player as Sculthorpe ever was and is the man who could step into the organising role and save Saints’ season.

Meanwhile, if Saints wanted to keep Wilkin in his current role, they could do a lot worse than giving youngster Gary Wheeler a run at halfback. Wheeler is a far more intelligent player than Eastmond who has looked at home whenever he has played in Super League. However, Wheeler has suffered from injuries and has never been given a run in the middle of the park.

Even if Saints solve this problem however, they still have several others that they need to address; one of which being the three quarter line. Over Super League, Saints have had some of the best attacking three quarters. From the Paul Newlove and Anthony Sullivan combination to recent Australian signings Matt Gidley and Jamie Lyon, the Saints have not lacked for strike power out wide. Until now.

The current three quarter line of Ade Gardner, Gidley, Sia Soliola and Francis Meli possesses a world of size but a dearth of speed, finishing ability and with the exception of Gidley, creativity. Soliola is a second rower in all but name but so were Lee Gilmour and Willie Talau and that never hurt Saints, but at the time, there was a lot more creative outlets on show. Ade Gardner is another who has not come close to realising the potential he showed as a youngster. A solid Super League player he is, but it would be a stretch to label him as anything more whilst Francis Meli gets through a lot of work but can be a liability in defence and does not possess natural finishing ability.

Added into Saints’ creative problems in the middle of the park and you can see why the most attacking team in Super League history is now finding themselves in a slump going forward. However, the proposed solution to the halfback problems could also help to solve the lack of firepower out wide.

By freeing up Leon Pryce from the centre of the pitch, you would be able to move a strike player who can take on the line out wide whilst still allowing Pryce the freedom to showcase his skills. Of course, Pryce has previously expressed displeasure at playing out wide and this showed in Saturday’s game when Saints moved James Roby to the wing as opposed to Pryce, who has played for Great Britain as a winger previously. So, such a strategy would potentially result in an unhappy player although hopefully a more mature Pryce would be willing to accept such a move for the benefit of the team.

Those changes might help Saints to score more than 20 points in a match, something they have managed just twice since July 2009! Issues would still remain however, including how you fit three hookers into a side (something I admit to having no idea on!) and the biggest problem of all, Mick Potter.

Potter did a fantastic job at Catalans but has arrived at an entirely different creature in St Helens and the tactics he appears to have learned at Bradford and implemented in Catalans have not gone down so well with the Saints fans. Potter appears to prefer a naturally conservative form of attack and relies more upon brute force than individual brilliance. This style of rugby goes against what Saints have come to expect and coupled with a lack of silverware last season and Potter’s rather dour outer personality has already lead to some fans calling for his head – an overreaction not usually seen on the terraces of Knowsley Road. However, this is the squad that Potter has put together and without a major upturn in performance levels, the fans might get their wish sooner than expected.

No comments:

Post a Comment