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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 15:32 GMT
Jon Wilkin column
Jon Wilkin

By Jon Wilkin
St Helens back row

Hello, I'm Jon Wilkin and I'm going to be the BBC Sport website's player columnist for 2007.

As some of you will know, I play for St Helens.

I've been at Knowsley Road for four years now after moving from my hometown club, Hull Kingston Rovers.

I love every second of what, in my view, is the best job in the world.

Last season was very special for me and the rest of the Saints squad.

We won the Challenge Cup and were crowned Super League champions at the end of the season. We also won a host of individual honours.

It is going to be tough replicating what we achieved in 2006.

But as we attempt to defend out trophies, I will be giving you an insight into my life as a professional rugby league player.

The nervous anticipation of the coming season has been magnified here at St Helens following a successful 2006 campaign.

People might assume we are still patting each other on the back and basking in the glory of what we achieved, but the reality is very different.

Following a gruelling season, the chance to wind down is as vital as the hard training itself

We are feeling under pressure, but only from ourselves as we try to ensure we set higher standards again for others to follow.

The test for our team is to produce consistent performances, a point which Daniel Anderson, our coach, has laboured to us in pre-season.

One of the secrets to our success last year was our strength in depth.

The younger players really displayed a maturity that belied their years and gave everyone a new-found energy for the game.

James Graham and James Roby caught the eye in particular, and I have no doubts they will come to the fore again.

The training ground is much quieter now Jamie Lyon has gone back to resume his lucrative pig-hunting business back in Australia.

Matt Gidley (R) with Huddersfield's Chris Thorman
Gidley (R) prepares for the Super League opener against Huddersfield

In his place comes Matt Gidley, who has immediately fitted into life in the north-west of England, although he has some minor problems with his translations.

It seems 'thongs' means one thing here and something quite different back in Newcastle. In his case, it's flip-flops.

In the days leading up to the new season, professional rugby league players can often be short with family, friends or passers-by.

We are like caged animals, having been poked and prodded by coaching staff in pre-season.

The first competitive game is a chance to vent built-up frustrations and release energy, which over the winter has been channelled into such constructive activities as loafing on a couch or drinking too much tea.

Following a gruelling season, the chance to wind down is as vital as the hard training itself.

Many players take the opportunity to travel to warmer climes, others choose to remain in the tropical climate of northern England.

I always like to find time to retreat back home, which for me is a small farm in the countryside near Hull.

We always seem to struggle at the Galpharm Stadium and are expecting a very tough game

It is so peaceful and quiet there that it really gives me chance to think things over and relax.

It also helps that my mum, Carol, looks after me so well.

She's like an amazing one-woman hotelier, and it's not unusual for me to find chocolates under my pillow or be served breakfast in bed.

It's in the fields near my house that I used to dream of playing rugby in front of a big crowd, scoring a try or making tackles.

I only have to drive through my village to remember how lucky I am, and it's here where I gather enthusiasm for the coming season.

I'm sure that dodging the numerous cowpats helped me perfect my side-step.

We kick off the defence of our Super League title with a game against Huddersfield.

We always seem to struggle at the Galpharm Stadium and are expecting a very tough game, full of first-round nerves.

But we are ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Finally, I would like to wish all the fans and players the best of luck for the coming season - unless they are playing Saints of course!

Hard act to follow
02 Feb 07 |  Super League
Huddersfield v St Helens (Sun)
02 Feb 07 |  Super League
Jon Wilkin - our new player columnist
31 Jan 07 |  Rugby League


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