Kristian Woolf says Super League champions St Helens are being out-bid for their own players as they prepare to lose several members of their Grand Final-winning squad.
A host of out-of-contract players remain unsigned for 2022, including scrum-half Theo Fages and Lachlan Coote, who demonstrated his value to Woolf’s team by producing a 16-point haul in their 24-6 win over Wigan on Sunday night with one of their three tries and six goals from seven attempts.
French scrum-half Fages has been courted by Huddersfield Giants and full-back Coote is thought to have lined up a move to Hull Kingston Rovers, with Saints head coach Woolf revealing the issues facing trying to keep hold of those players.
“We have a number of blokes off contract and salary cap pressure makes it difficult to keep the squad together,” Woolf said.
“On top of that, we have a lot of young guys coming through who deserve upgrades and that causes us some difficulties.
“I know we can’t match financial offers, in some cases it’s almost a third or double what we can offer.
“I know all our players off contract would prefer to play at Saints, but at the end of day it’s a professional sport and sometimes we have to wish them all the best.”
As for the match itself, St Helens looked refreshed after a 17-day break while Wigan were playing a second top-five clash in five days and the rigours are clearly taking a toll on Adrian Lam’s injury-hit team, who are experiencing their worst run since 2006.
“We spoke about making a positive start and I thought we were terrific in the first 40 minutes,” Woolf said.
“I really liked the way we started the game. We had a strong defensive set and backed it up with the ball. Wigan had a real energy about them in the second half but we defended really well.”
Woolf was delighted with the return of England centre Mark Percival, who missed the whole of June with hamstring issues but produced a man-of-the-match display against Wigan.
“I thought he was the best on the field,” Woolf said. “Every time he got the ball, he looked like he was going to create something and he was very good defensively as well.
“I’m really happy to have him back. He felt really comfortable out there.”
Lam dismayed by yellow cards
Wigan were forced to play with 11 men at one stage in the second half after having Kai Pearce-Paul and Willie Isa sin-binned, to the dismay of Lam, and they were trailing 24-0 when Liam Farrell scored their only try.
“I was really frustrated because there was nothing illegal about them at all,” Lam said. “Let’s not sin-bin players for the sake of it.”
Lam remains confident he can turn around his team’s fortunes, particularly when his injured players start to return, and said he saw some positive signs in the latest defeat.
“It was a weird game to be honest,” Lam said. “We had a lot of penalties go against at critical times.
“Saints looked very fresh after nearly three weeks off and we had a four-day turnaround, but I thought the players were courageous. There were moments there where I was really proud of them, especially their front-foot defence.
“The last month has been really difficult – we’ve lost confidence and we’re in a bit of a rut – but hopefully we’ll get some bodies drip fed back over the next month.
“I know five losses in a row is not ideal but I know in my heart we will turn the corner very soon and, when we do, we will get on a roll. I can sense and feel that because of our actions.”
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