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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 February, 2003, 16:26 GMT
Saints ready for long haul
St Helens coach Ian Millward believes his reigning Tetley's Super League champions can last the pace as they bid to lift their fourth crown in five years.

Millward is wary of how Saints' title defence fizzled out two years ago as injuries and fatigue combined to bring down the champions.

St Helens began 2001 with a bang, defeating Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge in January.

But they were a spent force nine months later when they crashed to a 44-10 defeat by Wigan in the final eliminator.

We were very disappointed with our performance against Sydney but we've got another trophy to play for now
Sean Long

Although Friday's crushing defeat by the Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge was a disappointment, Millward is confident Saints will go the distance this time.

"We've learned a lot from 2001," he said. "If you come in too early, it's hard to keep it going for nine months.

"We came in before Christmas to prepare for the Brisbane game but this time we didn't come back until 6 January."

Saints' great rivals Bradford Bulls have been made 5-4 title favourites, adding spice to Friday's blockbusting opener between the two sides.

It is a repeat of last October's dramatic Grand Final, which Saints won courtesy of a last-minute drop goal from Sean Long.

St Helens have seen Sean Hoppe, Peter Shiels and Sonny Nickle all depart since last season, but are bolstered by the additions of Jason Hooper, Darren Smith and Jon Wilkin.

"We might have lost a bit of size with the loss of Shielsy and Sonny Nickle but we've got young lads coming through, the likes of John Stankevitch and Mark Edmondson," said Long.

"They are very good players and Jason Hooper and Darren Smith are very mobile and very fit. So we've lost a bit of size but gained in other areas."

Much could depend on Saints' ability to keep their big-game players like Long, Paul Sculthorpe and Paul Wellens fit.

They will start the campaign without hooker Keiron Cunningham, who is still recuperating from elbow surgery.

Former Australian Test star Smith is hoping to be part of a championship-winning team after being thwarted by Canterbury Bulldogs' salary-cap misdemeanours last year.

Smith, 34, was left with a hollow feeling after the pace-setting Bulldogs were relegated to bottom spot but has been refreshed by his move to England.

"It has always been an ambition of mine to play in Britain and I intend to make the most of my opportunity," he said.

"The club are renowned for winning competitions and hopefully that won't change now."



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SEE ALSO
Roosters embarrass St Helens
14 Feb 03 |  Photo Galleries

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