Rugby League: Joynt's strength manages to hold Saints together

An inspirational captain can make the difference in tonight's play-off in Super League.
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ALTHOUGH THEIR form late in the season belies it, St Helens have taken some holding together this year. The spelling might be wrong, but the strength and flexibility of Chris Joynt has been a crucial element in keeping the whole potentially rickety structure upright.

As captain, Joynt has had to stabilise the team during the post-Bobbie Goulding, pre-Ellery Hanley phase of its eventful history. The success with which he has done so can be gauged from the way that Saints, after such a stuttering season, go into tonight's Super League elimination match at Halifax with every hope of progressing further.

Joynt gives much of the credit for keeping the show on the road to Shaun McRae, the coach effectively sacked for next season and now playing out time.

"The lads owe it to Shaun after three seasons with him. I've learnt more every year, not just about rugby but about life in general, and I think that applies to all the players," he says.

"One of his attributes is that you can always discuss team matters and discipline matters with him. He doesn't think he's always right and you can bounce ideas off him. He'll go away, have a think about it and say `OK, we'll try that'."

Despite his loyalty to McRae, Joynt does not condemn out of hand the way in which the Saints board have dispensed with him.

"They were up front about needing a new coach, and I admire them for being straight with him. But he's shown the sort of bloke he is. He's given the same commitment you'd get from someone with a job for life."

Commitment is important to Joynt. When anyone, like Goulding prior to moving to Huddersfield, is weakening the team effort, he is their harshest critic. It is notable that, since he took over the captaincy, there has been a newly united front on the field, regardless of what might be going on in the boardroom.

His own form as an individual is a factor in this, because few players give a lift to those around them quite as obviously as Joynt when he is on top of his game. He has returned from a hernia operation with a new spring in his stride and his attacking thrust down the left-hand side of the field, alongside the on-song Paul Newlove and Anthony Sullivan, can embarrass the best defences.

"I work down the left-hand channel and we are strong out there," he says. "But you can't shut three other players out of the play. If we play as a team, we've got the players to do something special. It doesn't just come from one area."

Joynt, already with 15 caps to his credit, has been mentioned as a possibility for a switch to the front row for the Tests against New Zealand this autumn. It is a role he has played before, but he is not keen to slot in there again just yet. His pace since his return suggests that he still has what it takes in the second row.

"I don't think the front row's for me for a couple of seasons yet," he says. "I'm the fittest I've been for a long time. Being a full-time professional is a big help when you're coming back from an operation."

Yet, unusually, Joynt is not "full time" in the way that his team-mates are. After he finishes training, he has another job - running a graphic design company that numbers some famous names among its clients.

"I just do a couple of hours a day. It's something I enjoy, because it gets my mind off rugby."

When his mind is on rugby, which is most of the time, Joynt has strong opinions. While players at all clubs have grumbled about the proposal for a 30-game season - with attendant midweek matches - next year, he has done something about it.

"The senior players have met with the chairman to make our views known. It's all right for the chairman and the chief executive to vote for it, but it's us that's going to be out there playing 35 or 40 games a season. I think they should listen to what the senior players say.

"They have to think about the quality of the product. They've just got it right now and I hope they don't blow it by tiring players out and then expecting them to go out and beat Australia."

Beating Halifax is a more immediate concern. If Joynt and his team-mates flex their muscles as effectively as they have recently, they can continue to make McRae's prolonged goodbye a memorable one.