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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005, 14:34 GMT
Fresh start for Saints
By Phil Gordos

Paul Sculthorpe
Sculthorpe says he feels refreshed after his enforced break
Paul Sculthorpe was the obvious choice to succeed Andy Farrell as Great Britain skipper when the Wigan legend made the switch to rugby union in March.

So it must have come as a huge disappointment to the St Helens man when his hopes of leading the side out against Australia and New Zealand in the 2005 Tri-Nations Series were dashed by injury.

The knee problem that sidelined Sculthorpe from the start of August had other painful repercussions for the 28-year-old loose forward.

A keen golfer, he has been unable to tee off for months, although his snooker game has improved markedly.

"I can't remember the last time I got the clubs out. I think they're going mouldy in the garage," he said.

"Because of the knee, I'm not allowed to play because of the twisting and turning that goes on."

Thankfully for Sculthorpe, it will not be long before he is swinging a three wood in anger again.

More importantly for Saints fans, he is on course to return to full fitness in time for the start of the new season.

"My rehabilitation is going really well," he said. "I feel really good and I've benefited from the rest."

My appetite for the game is as sharp as ever
Paul Sculthorpe

Sculthorpe became the first man to win back-to-back Man of Steel titles when he won the award for the second time in 2002.

He was at the peak of his powers and attracting interest from the prestigious NRL, with Penrith making public their admiration for the Oldham-born star.

Sculthorpe turned down the chance to test himself in Australia but continued to earn plenty of acclaim for his performances for both St Helens and Great Britain.

However, a string of injuries to his groin, back, hamstring and knee have dogged him in the last 18 months and hampered his effectiveness.

His latest problem was, he says, "just down to wear and tear" yet meant he could not help Saints in their quest for the Super League title.

After finishing top of the table at the end of the regular season, they faltered in the play-offs, bowing out to eventual winners Bradford.

The injury also took the shine off what was arguably the high point of his career to date: the honour of being made Great Britain captain.

Francis Meli
Francis looks like being a big favourite of the fans, just like Darren
Paul Sculthorpe

Just three months after being chosen as Farrell's successor, Sculthorpe was told he would have to wait until the end of 2006 to fulfil his dream of leading the Lions out for the first time.

"It was gutting to miss all the big games because they are the ones you want to play in," he said. "But I'll be back next year. My appetite for the game is as sharp as ever."

Without Sculthorpe and the likes of Kris Radlinski, the Lions failed to emulate last year's achievement of making the Tri-Nations final.

After a slow start, they demolished New Zealand in a memorable performance at Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium before losing their must-win clash with Australia.

Ironically, the Kiwis went on to claim the trophy, shocking the Kangaroos 24-0 at Elland Road.

A fit Sculthorpe is an asset to any team, but Saints will hope he can stay clear of injury as they bid to win their first major title since the Challenge Cup final win over Wigan in 2004.

The skipper certainly believes his side would have won something in 2005 had they not lost several big-name players.

Joining Sculthorpe on the sidelines at the business end of the season were scrum-half Sean Long and flying winger Darren Albert, who both suffered serious facial injuries.

"Losing players in key positions cost us," said Sculthorpe. "It's hard to replace players of the calibre of Sean and Darren."

Albert has since left Knowsley Road after scoring 91 tries in just 124 appearances for the club.

But Long is ready for action again after needing two metal plates inserted into his face after suffering a broken cheekbone at the hands of former Wigan hooker Terry Newton.

Also at Saints next season will be utility back Leon Pryce, prop Jason Cayless and winger Francis Meli.

Leon Pryce

Sculthorpe is delighted with the capture of three top-class internationals.

"With the players we've signed we look better than ever," he said. "Leon is a great signing for us while Francis looks like being a big favourite of the fans, just like Darren."

The signing of Pryce, widely regarded as Great Britain's best player in the recent Tri-Nations, will boost coach Daniel Anderson's options at half-back.

The former Bradford Bulls star will be competing for one of two spots along with Long, Jason Hooper and youngster James Roby.

Meli and Cayless will simply fill the gaps left by the departures of Albert to Cronulla and props Mark Edmondson and Keith Mason.

Edmondson has joined Sydney Roosters while Mason has agreed a season-long loan with Super League rivals Castleford.

But is the quality and quantity of back-row forwards that really delights Sculthorpe.

He will be fighting it out with the likes of Vinnie Anderson, Lee Gilmour, Mike Bennett and Jon Wilkin for one of three spots.

"There are a lot of players vying for most of the positions," he said. "It looks a strong squad."

Sculthorpe will be hoping it stays that way and both he and his team-mates steer clear of injury.




SEE ALSO
St Helens confirm Pryce's signing
01 Sep 05 |  Bradford
NZ star Cayless joins St Helens
29 Jun 05 |  St Helens
Meli to replace Albert at Saints
03 Aug 05 |  St Helens
Edmondson signs Roosters contract
10 Aug 05 |  St Helens
Long rejects Newton apology claim
16 Sep 05 |  St Helens
Sculthorpe out for rest of season
09 Aug 05 |  Super League


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