08 February 2024

Jonny Lomax relishing St Helens being Super League underdogs for a change

08 February 2024

Jonny Lomax says St Helens will draw on relative adversity and relish their unfamiliar role as underdogs when they kick off the new Betfred Super League season next week.

Saints saw their four-year reign end in a play-off semi-final defeat to Catalans Dragons in October, and will lose their status as world club champions to either Wigan or Penrith.

The 33-year-old Lomax, who was confirmed as his club’s new captain earlier this month, will also be leading Saints into something of the unknown this year following the retirement of talismanic hooker James Roby after 551 appearances.

But Lomax, the obvious choice to step into Roby’s shoes, believes the unusual situation will bring out the best in a club that had grown accustomed to both starting and finishing the season on top of the pile.

“Last season still hurts but having had the pressure of chasing more titles released in some ways, there’s a new excitement and a hunger to go out and chase it again,” Lomax told the PA news agency.

“It’s a nice tag being champions, but now someone else has to wear that and take the added pressure and scrutiny that comes with it.

“When you are winning all the time we are never satisfied. If we’d won the title last season we’d have wanted number six then number seven. When you’re chasing something, it really makes you appreciate the ups and downs that get you there.”

Lomax is better placed than most to acknowledge the difficulties of sustaining a career at the pinnacle of the sport.

He overcame a life-threatening head injury as a teenager, after which doctors told him he would never play again, plus three serious ACL surgeries that left him contemplating retirement.

Lomax admits that none of those setbacks were far from his mind when he was asked to replace Roby as captain by head coach Paul Wellens last month.

We see the bad as something we want to push away, but the reality is that that's where you learn the most - the good habits, the good practice, the resilience and desire to keep showing up.

“I was a little bit taken aback and emotional when I was given the task,” he admitted.

“The good is never without the bad. We see the bad as something we want to push away, but the reality is that that’s where you learn the most – the good habits, the good practice, the resilience and desire to keep showing up.

“It’s probably more about the down moments. They make the highs feel sweeter, and they have probably shaped me into the person who others see as having the right mindset to lead by example.”

There were few higher points for Lomax than their stunning world club win over Penrith in Sydney a year ago, when half-back partner Lewis Dodd converted a golden point drop goal.

And the pain of seeing that title slip from their grasp – potentially into the hands of their Lancashire rivals – at the DW Stadium later this month, is evident for a player who signed for Saints as a 14-year-old in 2005.

But he believes the way in which Penrith responded to the crushing disappointment of their loss to Saints by going on to retain their NRL title last season provides a blueprint for a similar revival.

“To see Penrith go on and win it (the NRL) after that, and to see how that disappointment really drove them on, is a lesson for us,” added Lomax, who is anticipating Wigan’s crack at the Australian champions with mixed emotions.

“In some ways I hope they (Wigan) win,” he smiled. “The NRL is the pinnacle competition, certainly from a financial perspective, but at the same time I think we are guilty of downplaying our own competition a bit.

“We should be proud of the competition and the players we’ve got here. There are players who are certainly good enough to go to the NRL but for whatever reason they might not want to. I think we should champion ourselves a bit more.”

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