The current St Helens side have the potential to reach the same standard as their successful teams of yesteryear, but have a long way to go yet, according to former player Lee Gilmour.
In an exclusive interview with NothingButLeague.com, the ex-Great Britain international revealed that he thinks the Saints, who currently sit eight points clear at the top of Super League, have every chance of going onto to achieve the same success as the teams he played in between 2003 and 2009, if they can keep the current squad together.
“There’s so many things that factor into that [achieving success]. I don’t know the contract situations of a lot of the players, rumour has it that Barba’s leaving but they’ve signed a really good player (Kevin Naiqama) from Wests Tigers so we’ll have to see how all that unfolds.
“But, if you manage to keep the nucleus of that team, like the Percival’s and young English talent that are already there, then there is no reason why they can’t get better.
“I think they’ve got the potential, a lot of their players are young and even the international players they have are fairly young at the minute, excluding James Roby, so they can continue to develop and could build towards that,” Gilmour said.
Gilmour, who is now a part of the coaching staff at Wakefield Trinity, also said he can see some attributes of the all-conquering side of twelve years ago in the current crop of players.
“When you think of the Saints of old and how quick the ruck speed was, how much they played quite flat and hard off the nine, the width that they’d put on the ball throughout the field, it’s quite similar,” he said.
“Having James Roby there too, who was playing during the era I played in, [gives them somebody] who they can play off and build on his quick play-of-the-balls to get on the front foot.
“The yardage they make through their outside backs too, [players such as] Percival, Makinson, Grace- they run hard, bring the ball back great and are all really quick so they get the set rolling for their team.
“Zeb Taia and [Dominique] Peyroux, who has converted from a centre to back-rower or utility type player seems to have found his feet now at second row, give them a lot of pace in those positions too alongside their really quick centres and wingers, so they just have a lot of pace and that’s probably the biggest similarity”.
And, while Gilmour did admit that he thinks Saints’ squad depth isn’t quite as strong as it was during his time on Merseyside, he does believe that there are a number of players in the squad who are as good as some of his old teammates.
“I’d certainly say the likes of Barba, Percival and Roby are there on the same level, quality wise, of what we had’” Gilmore claimed.
“Barba’s come over and been fantastic for the competition. I was thinking about that recently and I couldn’t think of another player who has come over and made such an impact and brought the sort of quality he has done. He was the only person who had been spoken about for ‘Man of Steel’ until recently, there’s a few other names being bandied about now, but for the first few months of the year he was the only one.
“I think people forget what Roby does too. They’re so used to seeing him they take it for granted as he’s been so good every week year in, year out and they do forget the level he’s consistently at, but then when you go to compare him to other nines in the competition he’s up there and will always at least be in the discussion of the best hookers around.
He also declared himself a “big fan” of centre Mark Percival, who has scored 19 tries in all competitions thus far in 2018, and hopes the 24-year old will be given more opportunities on the international stage in the future.
“I thought he was outstanding last year too and I was disappointed when he didn’t play in the World Cup,” Gilmour said of the Widnes-born three-quarter.
“He’s so quick and gets stuck in when making yardage at the start of sets, which some of the ‘prettier’ centres don’t like to do, but he certainly does that and has a lot of class. I was really pleased to see him, and Makinson, get a hit out against New Zealand over in America and both show up really well.”
However, although he has clearly been impressed by what they have been serving up, Gilmour also says that St. Helens have a lot of work to do before they can even be compared to the side that collected ten pieces of silverware in just five years, including a historic treble in 2006.
“It’s difficult to compare any team to one that played in a different era, but I don’t think they’re quite dominating like the team I played in did. I’m not sure how many League Leaders’ Shields we won or how many Grand Finals we played in, and we won four Challenge Cups in the six years I was there, so while they’re doing well and playing some great football I think they’ll have to do something over a period of time to be compared to the team I was lucky to be involved in at St. Helens”.
The Saints are comfortable at the top of the league, in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and are big favourites to go on and win the Grand Final in October.
And, despite suggesting that Saints will taste success in the near future, when asked if he thought St. Helens would win the treble this year, as they have been widely tipped to do, Gilmour was keen to stress that lifting all three trophies won’t be as easy as some people are making out.
“I don’t think St. Helens winning the treble is as cut and dried as many think it is,” he said. “They’ve done really well in the league and are six points clear, so maybe it’s safe to say the League Leaders’ Shield is secure, but the other two trophies are still there to be won by anybody.
“They’re in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, but Warrington have been in good form over the last few months and are there as well so have a good chance of winning it too.
“The Grand Final is tough, I think last year showed that a team can be on top throughout the season but if they’re not at it on the night then it can easily get away from them, which is what happened to Castleford.
“I’d also say that the time of year will be a factor in that. The time of the Grand Final is usually wet weather and that makes the ball greasy, so it will be harder for Saints to play the style of football they have done for most of this year.
There are some teams who have challenged them recently too. They beat Leeds by a point and we’ve given them a couple of good games this year. They’re a very good and a dangerous team, so they have a good chance of doing it, but they’re not unbeatable.”