There’s a new look to St Helens this season. Not only are they no longer the reigning champions following the end of their four-year dominance of the Betfred Super League competition, but they also enter the 2024 campaign without James Roby on their playing staff for the first time in two decades.
The legendary hooker retired at the end of last season, with Saints bringing in former Castleford Tigers and Warrington Wolves number nine Daryl Clark as a direct replacement in Paul Wellens’ squad.
Clark becomes only the third player in the Super League era to wear the number-nine shirt for St Helens, following on from Roby and Keiron Cunningham, but the 30-year-old has told Betfred that he is looking forward to the challenge of stepping into such illustrious boots at a club currently priced at 3/1 to win another Grand Final this season.
“Looking at how well they’ve done in the last few years, and obviously losing the iconic player and legend in ‘Robes’ [brings pressure], but when is there not any pressure in sport?” he says. “I knew that when I agreed to come to the club, and I’ll just be doing all I can to get myself in the best shape possible and hopefully I can do a job on the field and help the team.
“It made it a little bit easier that I didn’t have to move or anything because I’ve lived in St Helens for a few years! So that’s made the transition pretty easy, and a lot of things just made sense for the move.”
And superstar prop Alex Walmsley is revelling in the thought of linking up with Clark having previously taken to the field with the hooker for England at international level.
“It brings something new about our attack. Daz is very much an exciting player, he’s someone who runs and can break the line and exploit weak defences, and he loves a quick play-the-ball,” Walmsley tells Betfred. “So I’m really looking forward to playing with Daz this year.
“He’s someone I’ve been lucky enough to play with at international level, he’s someone I get on really well with. So to bring someone like Daz in, who has been one of the stand-out nines for a number of years now, and with his expertise, it does make that transition a lot easier.
“James Roby’s void is a void that really you can’t fill, but what you can do is change that position, and I think Daz is coming in and will be really exciting. He’s going to be something fresh about the place, and we’re definitely looking forward to having Daz on the field and him playing a bit part of our success.”
Roby has been succeeded as St Helens captain by another one-club man in Jonny Lomax, and the halfback says that the potential for continued glory may only have been harnessed by their failure to win a fifth successive league title in 2023.
“It relieves a bit of pressure that we’ve carried as a group on our shoulders for quite a while now, which leads you into an exciting time where you’re not there to be knocked off anymore,” explains Lomax. “It gives you a bit more sense of freedom as a group, and I think that sometimes can bring the best out of people. That’s why I feel as though it’s an exciting time moving forward.
“I certainly do feel that there’s a bit less pressure in some ways. To have carried that title for a while, it does come with a bit of added scrutiny, teams are coming for you week-in, week-out. It almost feels like every game is a bit more of a final.
“But I think as a chaser, the pressure is relieved almost. It gives you a bit of a sense of freedom, and a bit of a release.”
And Lomax adds that, on a personal level, he won’t overthink the responsibility of taking over the armband from Roby.
“It probably doesn’t change my role so much. You lose that quality of person and there is going to be an effect, but for me I’ve probably spent the longest time with Robes than any other teammate that he’s had. So I’ve almost been his right-hand man in some ways and I’ve always been in and around them conversations because of the type of leadership we’ve had as a club.
“So it probably doesn’t change too much as a dynamic, certainly not that I’ve seen yet. As a group I think we’ve got a good core leadership that has been developed on quality people which should set us up quite nicely moving forward.”
Saints kick off their bid for a 10th Betfred Super League title with a home fixture against newly-promoted London Broncos on Friday, February 16 (20:00 kick-off). Live coverage of the match will be available on Sky Sports Action and the match will also be streamed on SuperLeague+.
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