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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 12:49 GMT
Jon Wilkin column
Jon Wilkin

By Jon Wilkin
St Helens back row

The Halliwell Jones Stadium is somewhere that has always produced intense and close games between Saints and Warrington.

Last week was no exception, although the scoreline really flattered us in the end. Credit to our players for some exciting tries.

Matt Gidley was at the centre of everything we did with some dazzling footwork while Leon Pryce was outstanding again, showing everyone that he is becoming a very accomplished stand-off.

Jon Wilkin in action against Warrington
Wilkin enjoyed the atmosphere on and off the pitch at Warrington

I always enjoy playing at the HJ Stadium, although the atmosphere and mood around the ground before and during a game is very intimidating for an opposition player.

But it's a very nice venue and Warrington seem to have struck a nice balance between corporate hospitality, which provides an important stream of revenue, and terracing, which ensures the traditional rugby league experience remains.

It's important clubs look after the fans when considering moving to a new ground. Warrington have got a lot of things right that other clubs, including ourselves, can learn from.

Following a Friday night fixture, the Saints players meet at a local gym for a rehab session on Saturday morning which consists of a long, low-intensity bike ride followed by a good, long stretch and chat.

Some people talk about the game, some about their plans for the weekend, while several of the younger, unattached players choose to observe the aerobic session that's going on next door.

All that lycra is quite exciting for some people!

Francis Meli
Francis Meli is also a mean bass guitarist

Following the rehab, we disperse and become individuals again, no longer referred to via collective phrases as 'the lads', 'the squad' and 'you lot'.

As much as I love being in a team, everyone needs to have their own identity away from rugby.

Sometimes people assume that you are just a rugby player, but I am also a son, brother, uncle and friend.

All these other aspects of my life are as, if not more, important than my job, so I like to spend time with family and friends as much as possible.

I have hobbies, too. I like a game of squash from time to time and if I could I would play cricket for a local team, but I don't think I am allowed. Some of my team-mates have interesting hobbies.

For instance, Francis Meli plays the bass guitar, Keiron Cunningham enjoys clay pigeon shooting and fishing, Ade Gardner collects and learns dialogue from obscure DVDs, Mike Bennett attends wedding fairs and James Graham has every Merlin football sticker album since their inception!

I also like going out for a few drinks and talking rubbish with my pals.

After training, the Saints players often go somewhere for a cup of tea or coffee and argue about religion, sport and life in general. It's brilliant.

I am also an avid cook and enjoy making and eating good food. When I finish playing I would love to go into business with a bistro cafe or healthy, fast-food place.

There is a misconception that rugby league players earn enough to never work again when their careers finish.

The reality is that 95% of Super League players will have to work again when they hang up the boots - and that can be a very scary proposition for some people.

As a professional sportsman, it's easy to be lulled into a life that has little connection with the real world. It's like being in a dream, but it's important to remember the dream will end.

I plan on being ready for a rude awakening! People always tell you to think about the future and plan ahead, but I would love to see more help from the RFL in this area, especially for young players.

I was lucky enough to get the beginnings of a good education behind me, but I am well aware that my rugby career could end at anytime. It's important for players and their families to plan for a sustainable future.

This weekend we play Hull FC in a repeat of last year's Grand final.

They are one of the most improved teams in the Super League era and are now considered as one of the elite.

Hull FC's Richard Swain
Saints take on Swain and his team-mates at Hull FC

They have started slowly by their standards, but I think all the top sides have struggled early on this season.

Hull are due a massive game, and I am always very intimidated by a side who haven't quite got things going yet.

As a former Hull KR player, the first few times I played against Hull I was full of emotion and energy. But the longer I have played the game the more rational and objective I have become.

I am relying less on emotion and energy these days, trying instead to make educated decisions in the heat of the moment. It's a skill I am looking to develop as I go.

Players like Wello, Longy, Scully and Keiron are great role models in that respect. As four of the world's best players, they make the right decisions more often than not.

Q. There is an opinion voiced in football that certain club sides are better than the national team of that country. Do you consider St Helens to be a better side than Great Britain?
Andy, Norfolk

A. I think that all international teams are envious of the cohesion and familiarity that you get at club level. You can never recreate that kind of relationship in a short space of time.

All teams in Super League have different philosophies on how the game should be played, so you can often get confusion when you meet up for an international game.

But as elite players you have to be able to fit into any given structure. It would be a great to see how Saints would fare against a GB side, but seven of our squad are GB internationals. Who would we play for?

Q. As a professional, how do you try to put something back into the game? I recently heard you were trying to set up a summer day camp for kids to play rugby and educate them a little about the importance of exercise and living healthily. Is this true?
Matt, New Zealand

A. Yes, I have been working very closely with St Helens council to set up a summer training camp to give children an insight into what healthy living and exercise can do for them.

It will start with a tag tournament at St Helens Show at the end of July then hopefully turn into a full training camp next summer.

It will cover aspects of training and diet as well as teaching kids general life skills. It may change some children's outlook on lifestyle and discipline.

The vision is to help children become interested in their own welfare.

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