If you thought the signing of Matty Smith from W***n was bonkers, consider Saints’ latest recruitment decision in letting Andre Savelio join Warrington Wolves.
Savelio joins the League Leaders Shield winners on a strangely short-term one-year deal, that despite signing a new two-year deal at Saints at the end of 2015. So what are we getting for the services of one the most promising back rowers in the British game? Well, apparently nothing, nothing apparently. In a club statement made to announce the departure of no fewer than 12 players Saints made no mention of any fee for Savelio, who has spent the latter part of the 2016 season on loan at Castleford Tigers. All of which would seem a little bit on the batshit crazy side if it were not exactly the sort of business you would expect from a club which has just given a four-year deal to a halfback that our friends over the lump don’t seem to want or need.
There has been some talk of acquiring a player in exchange from Warrington. There should be room on the cap with the departures we have seen, especially since only Smith, Luke Douglas, Adam Walker and Ryan Morgan have arrived at the club so far. The highly rated hooker Brad Dwyer has been mentioned continually by the more optimistic among us, and there is no doubt that he would be a shrewd signing. He has always impressed whenever I have seen him but has apparently had a bit of a fall out with Warrington’s smiling, shrugmeister coach Tony Smith. His days at the Halliwell Jones Stadium seem numbered. There is an argument that his arrival will block the path to the first team for youngsters Aaron Smith and Jonah Cunningham but the fact of the matter is that the best player plays. If either of those two are good enough then they will eventually come through. We should not pass up an opportunity to provide some much needed cover for James Roby if it presents itself.
Increasingly, Roby has looked like a man in need of a rest as the 2016 wound down, with his performance in the semi-final at Warrington a particular nadir. Don’t get me wrong, he has been sensational again this season and in my opinion can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on England selection. However, at his age he is becoming more and more overworked and it is almost inarguable that we would get more out of him in the latter part of his career if he didn’t have to play 80 minutes every week.
Another player mentioned as possible bait for the Savelio deal is Stefan Ratchford. This seems like blue-sky thinking to me. The length (or lack thereof) of Savelio’s contract seems to suggest that neither the player nor the club anticipate that he will be sticking around Cheshire for too long. It has been made clear by Savelio for as long as anyone can remember that he aims to play in the NRL at some point in his career. A good season or two at Warrington could help him achieve that goal. If he does that sooner rather than later, then why would Warrington sacrifice Ratchford, an England international who can cover a number of positions including fullback, centre and stand-off? His utility value allied to his obvious abilities make him one of the most sought after players in an increasingly mediocre Super League. Letting him go to a major rival would be a decision on a whole new level of barmy-ness than that which has seen Savelio join Warrington.
This being Saints, let’s assume for a moment that we are not getting a fee and that we won’t have the nous to acquire Dwyer or Ratchford in exchange. In those circumstances we can only assume that either a fee will be decided by a tribunal or that Saints have agreed to let him join a major rival for nothing, just to get him out of the place. He has certainly not been without his problems during the last year or so of his time at Saints, a fact which eventually led to his loan spell with the Tigers. Some observers who have witnessed reserve team games have reported that his attitude in those games was fairly dismal, while the player himself has made no secret of the fact that he has had the funk on about how he was being used by coach Keiron Cunningham. In admitting that his performances were somewhat below par, Savelio cited the fact that Cunningham wanted him to play in the front row for the most part, whereas he sees himself as a second row or loose forward.
That’s not unreasonable. I think anyone who has seen Savelio play would assert that he has the ball skills and the footwork to play in the more creative back-row positions, while probably also lacking the size to be deployed as the battering ram prop so beloved of The Grind. Moreover, when you consider that Cunningham has already stated publicly that he sees MOAFH hero Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook as the man in pole position to start alongside Joe Greenwood in the second row in 2017 you start to scratch your head a bit. The infuriating LMS is one of a number of Saints second row forwards who don’t have Savelio’s talent. Are Dominique Peyroux, Jon Wilkin or Jack Ashworth really good enough to be keeping a player like Savelio out of the second row? Surely only Morgan Knowles can rival him in that position for pure ability? There must be more to it.
Regardless of the validity of his claim to a second row berth based on ability alone, you have to question Savelio’s attitude. Failing to put in a reasonable shift in reserve team games is bordering on unforgivable, while bemoaning the coach’s decision on where you play also has a worrying whiff of the prima donnas about it. Some would suggest that Savelio is privileged to pull on the shirt and should play where he is asked to play, and bloody well enjoy it. There seems little doubt that Savelio’s attitude and his relationship with Cunningham have both been contributing factors to his departure. In a sense apportioning blame seems superfluous, but even if it is the player’s fault it does not excuse the club if they have failed to get the best possible deal for their player, and in so doing have significantly strengthened a side who will doubtless be challenging them for honours come next season.
Perhaps the full story on this one has yet to be told, but at the moment it just reads like the sad story of a club and a player combining in their failure to maximise potential, compounded by the club’s inability to get the best possible compensation from the split.