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St Helens Super League

Champions docked points for salary cap breach

On the eve of the 2019 Betfred Super League season, reigning champions Wigan Warriors have been hit with a two-point deduction after being found guilty of salary cap breaches during the 2017 campaign.

The punishment means Wigan – who start their season tomorrow against big rivals St Helens – will start bottom of the table on -2 points which, while hardly insurmountable, will be an annoyance to those involved with the club. Nevertheless, the Warriors have outlined their intention to appeal the sanctions, believing that it is a “disproportionate punishment.”

An independent tribunal found the club guilty of breaches in relation to six separate payments which combined amounted to £14,700. The club claim that the breach was down to administrative errors where six small payments of between £2000 and £3000 for agents’ fees were overlooked, leaving the club over the £1.825m cap by 0.8%. The 2017 campaign saw Wigan win the Super League Grand Final but the breaches were found following the salary cap audit of that season during 2018.

“This is not an integrity or dishonesty issue, purely an administrative error by a new financial team in an exceptionally busy and disruptive circumstance,” Ian Lenagan said to the media following the confirmation of the club’s ban. This breach clearly did not affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2017 yet the immediate deduction of two points does affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2019. I take full responsibility for an admitted breach by Wigan and apologise unreservedly for the error and accept a fine is justified,” he continued.

Lenagan, though, outlined his belief that a points sanction is an extreme punishment for the breach, using the example of St Helens’ breach of roughly the same amount in 2006 when they were solely fined £18,000. Wigan outlined that, coupled with a new financial team, the breach coincided with an unprecedented number of injuries which demanded multiple salary cap administration charges and dispensation applications.

While Wigan have appealed the two-point deduction – believing that it unfairly impacts on the 2019 playing squad – they will start on -2 points when they face St Helens on Thursday evening in Super League’s season opener.

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St Helens Super League

Saints captain seals new deal

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St Helens’ hugely experienced hooker and captain James Roby has signed a new deal with the club which will take him to the end of the 2021 campaign, a deal which will see him extend his stay with the Saints to two decades with the club.

33-year-old Roby has made over 400 appearances for the 2018 Super League League Leaders’ Shield winners and won the Man of Steel in 2007. Since making his debut in 2004, the thirty-time England international has also been part of two Super League Grand Final winning teams, lifting the trophy in both 2006 and 2014. Boasting a World Club Challenge victory in 2007 as well, Roby has lifted all possibly major trophies during his time with the club.

Understandably, after extending his deal with the club he first joined in 2002, Roby was deilghted. “I have enjoyed many great years at the club and I will be doing all I can to bring more trophies in 2019 and beyond,” he told the media.

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St Helens Super League

Dream Teamer set to miss out on Saints’ opener

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Justin Holbrook has confirmed that French half-back Theo Fages is set to start in St Helens’ season opener on Thursday night ahead of last year’s top Super League points scorer Danny Richardson.

Richardson, named in last season’s Super League Dream Team, has been troubled with a groin problem in the off-season. That injury concern, however, is believed to have eased and the Englishman is instead set to miss out in part due to a tactical decision from the Saints’ Australian head coach. Confirming Richardson’s pre-season injury issue, Holbrook explained his decision regarding the two half-backs. “He’s [Richardson] fine, but Theo has different strengths. He’s a more calming type of guy while Danny is a bit more electrifying. To start the year we will likely go for that more solid start with Theo,” he told the media.

It is unlikely that Richardson will remain on the periphery for long, especially as he has been given the number 7 jersey this season. Indeed, the 22-year-old may be involved from the interchange bench against Wigan on Thursday night. Last season Fages was very much an understudy last season to Richardson and Jonny Lomax but it seems that Holbrook may be willing to give the Frenchman more of a role in 2019.

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St Helens Super League

Naiqama keen to get started with Saints

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As one of St Helens’ high-profile off-season signings, you may expect Kevin Naiqama to feel under an element of pressure. After all, 2018 saw the Saints excite rugby league fans with their brand of rugby yet failed to win anything other than the League Leaders’ Shield. However, the Fiji captain is eager to entertain with Justin Holbrook’s team as they aim to go the extra step to major silverware in 2019.

“With the coaching staff and playing group we have here, there is definitely a great opportunity looming. We were unlucky this year and I’m sure with the new additions we can better our chances in 2019,” he told the club’s official website. The former Wests Tigers centre will replace Ryan Morgan in the Saints’ threequarter line, probably at right centre, and believes that his style of play will help their quest for glory next year. “The style of footy here does suit me and I’m sure Lachlan Coote and Joseph Paulo feel the same, too. I’m also hoping the football I play is what head coach Justin Holbrook brought me here for – that’s being fast, explosive and creating opportunities on the edge.” 

Naiqama, Coote and Paulo are the three highest profile signings St Helens have made ahead of 2019 will former York City Knights second-row/centre Joe Batchelor also making the move to the Totally Wicked Stadium. Naiqama has spoken out in the past of his delight at having joined the club and reaffirmed this, stating that “it was a deep desire of mine to come to England and compete in Super League.” He also expressed how impressed he has been after working with his new team mates in training. “It is an awesome playing squad and the boys make it very enjoyable and exciting to turn up every day at training,” he told the media.

Naiqama will be keen to earn a starting spot for St Helens’ season opener against rivals Wigan Warriors on the 31st January, a match which is also the first of Super League 2019.