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Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Friday, 11 February 2011

St Helens season preview 2011

By Ged Scott
BBC Sport

Royce Simmons
Royce Simmons was previously assistant coach with Wests Tigers

A new ground, a new coach, two new captains and no more Keiron Cunningham all adds up to a new era for St Helens.

Yet, when the new season kicks off at the Millennium Stadium against old rivals Wigan on Saturday night, the talk will still inevitably revolve to a large extent around their most famous old stager.

The Cunningham years are now sadly at an end, but the question still has to be answered as to how Saints will now fill such a massive hole?

The simple answer is that life post-Cunningham, not to mention post-Mick Potter, has already begun under new coach Royce Simmons.

As far as Cunningham's on-field presence is concerned, Saints fans had already become accustomed to the fact that their former Great Britain legend did not always run to a full 80 minutes any more.

They had one last hurrah when his memorable last-gasp victory-clinching try in the final day league win over Castleford crucially secured second place by the narrowest of margins ahead of Warrington.

And there was more to come in the play-offs as Saints twice came from behind to beat both Warrington and Huddersfield, with Cunningham's beaming face among the try scorers each time.

But, despite bowing out with tries in each of his three final games at Knowsley Road, Old Trafford against Wigan was a battle too many for the emotional old warhorse.

And Cunningham had to bow out with four successive Grand Final defeats, to add to his four earlier wins.

But what sort of legacy has he left?

Off the field, there is really no need for him to be missed as, in his new backroom role, he can hardly fail to be a massive presence and personality for new coach Simmons to tap into while Saints spend the season squatting at Widnes before moving into a brand new home in 2012.

As for on the field, having signed new Aussie prop Josh Perry to line up with new joint Saints and England captain James Graham either side of Cunningham, Simmons' side hardly look too shabby in the front row.

They have also brought in Harlequins prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to add further firepower up front.

And they have brought in another England international in Castleford centre Michael Shenton.

Added to that, they have rugby union target Kyle Eastmond fit to start the season, after missing almost half of 2010, as well as Sia Soliola, who missed almost the whole season.

They still have another wise old head out there in Cunningham's old team-mate Paul Wellens to lead the side jointly with Graham.

"Saints and Wigan games normally are special. We are looking forward to the match," Wellens told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"There's no doubt Wigan are a great side and they've recruited well again in the off-season - they're certainly going to be up there. This game gives us a clear indication of where we are at and what we need to do.

"We're a confident team and we're in good spirits and for the first time in a long time the pressure is off us in this game. We can just go into it, play our rugby and see what we can do.

Paul Wellens, Martin Gleeson
Wellens dives in vain to stop Martin Gleeson at Old Trafford in October

"Preparation have gone really well in pre-season. The boys have trained really hard and we've enjoyed putting into practice some of the things that Royce has brought in. We're looking forward to getting going now."

With these fresh ideas from Simmons to add to the equation, following his arrival from down under to become the ninth Australian coach in Super League, there is no telling where they can end up in October.

The danger is that, being forced to play away from their home town while the new ground is under construction, this season may turn into one of transition for Saints.

And the distraction of their star turn Eastmond being courted by top union sides like Bath may prove a story which does not go away.

But, if they can start by beating Wigan in Cardiff on Saturday night and wreaking revenge for that most painful of defeats in October, they may have a chance of becoming champions for the first time since 2006.

And memories of Cunningham would then be confined to the statue of Saints' living legend when the new ground opens for business.

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see also
Super League form guide 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Super League
Roby aiming to end medal drought
03 Feb 11 |  St Helens
Wellens and Graham to lead Saints
01 Feb 11 |  St Helens
Perry sets St Helens debut date
27 Jan 11 |  St Helens
Pryce happy to remain with Saints
20 Jan 11 |  St Helens
Bath eye St Helens star Eastmond
30 Dec 10 |  Bath
Cunningham bows out a good loser
03 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
St Helens 10-22 Wigan Warriors
02 Oct 10 |  Super League
McCarthy-Scarsbrook joins Saints
03 Sep 10 |  St Helens
Saints sign Shenton from Tigers
03 Aug 10 |  St Helens
Simmons appointed St Helens coach
22 Jul 10 |  St Helens
Saints in temporary Widnes move
18 Jul 10 |  St Helens
Super League Show
17 Feb 08 |  Rugby League

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