Keeping squad together key to continued success, says St Helens chief Mike Rush

Keeping squad together key to continued success, says St Helens chief Mike Rush

St Helens chief executive Mike Rush is confident the Super League champions can continue to smash records as he prepares to announce a successor to head coach Kristian Woolf.

Woolf ended his three-year spell in the Saints hot seat on a high with a third straight Grand Final victory, courtesy of their 24-12 success over Leeds at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.

Woolf, who will become assistant to Wayne Bennett at new NRL franchise Dolphins in 2023, built on the success of his predecessor Justin Holbrook at Saints as they became the first team to win four Grand Finals in a row and lay claim to be the best team in the club’s history.

St Helens v Leeds Rhinos – Betfred Super League – Grand Final – Old Trafford
Kristian Woolf is the first coach in Super League history to win three Grand Finals in a row (PA Images/Richard Sellers)

“That’s probably for the media to speculate about,” Rush said. “It’s hard to compare an era because from 2006 to 2010 there were some phenomenal players, people like Keiron Cunningham, Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe, Leon Pryce, Matt Gidley and it goes on.

“This is a different era but this is a phenomenal group of players, the likes of Jonny Lomax and James Roby.

“I thought Joe Batchelor was outstanding today, Morgan Knowles and Matty Lees, they’re the future of English rugby league. It’s hard to compare but we’re very proud of all of them.

“They’re a fantastic group of players, led by a fantastic coach, started by another great coach in Justin Holbrook, and fortunately we’ve been able to be on the right end of a few Grand Finals when previously we weren’t able to.”

Having bagged four Grand Finals in a row, taking their total to a record nine, Saints will set their sights on Wigan’s pre-Super League record of seven successive title triumphs from 1990 to 1996.

“It’s impossible to say what you can and can’t do but we will always do our best to keep this group together,” Rush said.

“Like all the great teams, you need that unity and team spirit and they all buy into that.

“They could probably earn more money elsewhere but collectively they’ve had to take a little bit less if they want to stay together.

“I suppose that’s the power of the salary cap and what it’s meant to do and it’s testament to these players that they buy into that and make sure we can keep this squad together.”

Saints underwent major changes in personnel at the end of the 2021 season, partly forced on them by salary cap pressure, but Welsh winger Regan Grace is the only player leaving this time and Rush says the club is on the look-out to strengthen.

“It’s really sad that Regan is going  because he is one of our own,” he said. “We  wish him all the best in France and hope one day he comes back.

“We’ve got a pretty settled squad, everybody else has re-signed, but there is a little bit of space if we can find the right player that’s going to complement this group, although not having a quota spot makes it that little bit more difficult.”

Huddersfield Giants v St Helens – Betfred Super League – John Smith’s Stadium
St Helens’ assistant coach Paul Wellens is expected to step up to replace Kristian Woolf (PA Images/Will Matthews)

Any signings will be made by Woolf’s successor, who is expected to be his assistant Paul Wellens, the former St Helens and England full-back who has served a long apprenticeship with club and country since he hung up his boots in 2015.

Rush says the club have made their mind up about the appointment and fans will not have long to wait to discover their identity.

“That will all come out in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re well planned, we’re always thinking of what next, so genuinely it is not an issue for us.

“It’s been known to us internally for a long time.”