Arnold moving into the fast lane

Dave Hadfield expects a St Helens starlet to play a big part in a vital week
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The Independent Online
SUCH is the youthful confidence of St Helens' latest rugby league prodigy, Danny Arnold, that, when the crowds gathered for the debut of Paul Newlove earlier this month, he assumed that they were there for him.

Arnold did not quite upstage the world's most expensive player on the day they both made their first appearances in the Saints' first team. But he has shown enough potential, then and since, to hint that he will become rather valuable himself in the future.

"He's a top prospect," says his coach, Eric Hughes. "He's very confident and it's part of my job to see he stays that way, while keeping his feet on the ground."

Arnold, just 18, initially made his impact at full-back, coming on as a substitute for the injured Steve Prescott against Workington. Since then he has shone on the wing, standing in for another of Saints' young prospects, Joey Hayes, but Hughes believes he could turn out to be best suited to his own old role in the centres. What Arnold has, apart from the requisite speed and skill, is something that some of his contemporaries at Knowsley Road lack - size.

"He's already a big lad," Hughes says, "and he is going to fill out a lot more over the next few years. But the really striking thing about him is his enthusiasm for the game. Even though he is so new to the game, he just wants the ball all the time."

Saints will need to tap into that wide-eyed enthusiasm more than they had anticipated over the next couple of weeks. A crop of injuries means that Arnold, who might have expected to be hovering on the fringes of the first team, is likely to be required to play a role beyond his years, both in the Boxing Day derby at Wigan and in the Regal Trophy semi-final against Warrington four days later.

Even though Saints sacrificed any lingering, faint hope of wresting the Championship trophy away from its seemingly permanent curators at Central Park when they lost at Castleford last week, the mince pie derby against Wigan - of which this is the last before the advent of summer rugby - carries a tribal intensity all of its own.

Hughes is certain that Arnold will cope admirably with the special atmosphere of the occasion. "He'll love it," he says. "He's not a lad who will let the pressure get to him. Was it George Bernard Shaw who said ignorance is bliss? That certainly applies to Danny. It will just flow over the top of his head. He's so fresh to the game that he doesn't realise anything can go wrong yet."

Much has gone wrong for Saints during the build-up towards the most demanding phase of their season. Their captain and play-maker, Bobbie Goulding, is suspended and Newlove and his international team-mate Chris Joynt are among the injured. They will be well below optimum strength at Central Park.

"That is a pity because it diminishes what is always a very important occasion, but I have to be realistic and say that our priority now is the Regal Trophy," Hughes says. At least he will have Goulding free of his ban and back in action in time to play in Saturday's date with Warrington.

But such are Hughes's other problems that Arnold is earmarked as an important member of his team for both matches.Ironically, the youngster could have been playing for either of today's teams. He comes from the neither-here- nor-there area of Penketh in Cheshire, regarded as a natural recruiting ground by Wigan, Warrington and Widnes, as well as Saints.

"He had played his junior rugby in Widnes and Warrington, while Wigan always look around that area as well," Hughes says. "But we got him over here and into our Academy team and he hasn't looked back."

That under-19 team has already produced plenty of talent of first-team calibre. The signs are that Arnold, blessed with a temperament to match his athleticism, could be the best of the lot.

If he comes through the next week as well as he has come through his first month, he will have begun to fulfil his brimming self-confidence.