St Helens skipper Jon Wilkin says his side’s shock 44-10 thumping by Salford was an unwelcome but much-needed wake-up call ahead of Friday’s (Saturday 0700 AEDT) World Club Series clash with the Sydney Roosters.
The English powerhouses were terrible against the perennial Super League strugglers, who have been turned around largely thanks to former Kangaroos Test coach Tim Sheens, who is director of rugby, and a number of ex-Wests Tigers including Robert Lui and Ben Murdoch-Masila.
However, Wilkin said the prospect of hosting a Roosters side hit by injuries to Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in addition to an untested and inexperienced halves combination of Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima has helped to focus a shellshocked Saints squad.
“We’ve been really critical of each other in video analysis and in training it has been more intense than ever,” Wilkin told AAP in Manchester.
“We’ve got a long way to come from to where we need to be to beat the Sydney Roosters and it’s an achievable challenge to bridge but it’s going to be a very tough challenge.”
Wikin was part of the Saints side that were walloped 39-0 by South Sydney in last year’s World Club Challenge final – a result that did nothing to boost the game’s popularity in England.
Outside of the north west of England and Yorkshire, league still struggles for publicity in a nation where soccer will forever be king and rugby union and cricket battle it out for the second sport status.
Regular beatings by NRL opponents do nothing to raise the exposure and Wilkin said the players of all three Super League teams this week are hugely motivated – particularly with new England coach Wayne Bennett watching on.
“I think the NRL is a great competition but we need to change the perception of our competition over here,” he said.
“Part of that is getting a result this weekend. I think we do have a bit of an inferiority complex.
“The NRL acknowledges our competition but are probably a bit dismissive of it and that is largely because they are focused on what they are doing over there.
“But to change perceptions you need to get wins over their teams and then look at ways to get more young people playing rugby league in this country.”
“Wayne Bennett will be having a good look at things over here for sure and it’s a great chance for young players to impress him.”