Fit-again Stephenson knows it is time to step up at Saints

Tom Stephenson scored against the Dragons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Tom Stephenson scored against the Dragons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Tom Stephenson had to wait a year before he could return to the Franklin’s Gardens turf in a 15-a-side game - and in the end it didn’t disappoint.

A try, a big victory and, most importantly, an injury-free run-out came the way of the 23-year-old as Saints smashed the Dragons 71-21 in a try-fest a couple of weeks ago.

Jim Mallinder's men have since backed that up with victories against Nottingham and Glasgow Warriors, with Stephenson continuing to play his part.

And he is now ready to make up for lost time in the green, black and gold.

“First of all, I’ve got to stay fit - that’s my main goal,” said Stephenson, who suffered a broken leg in a pre-season game against Rotherham Titans at the Gardens last August.

“I want to get five or six games under my belt without any problems and then really push for some form and try to get in the starting team.

“I’m not going to hide. I’m 23 going on 24 and I want to be pushing for a first-team spot now.

“I’ve had two years out and it’s going to take me a bit of time to find my form, but I’m really ready for the season now.

“It’s time for me to grow up and step up in the team.

“I desperately want a starting spot so we’ll see how it goes.”

Stephenson looks a different player to the one who broke into the Saints side a few seasons ago.

He has bulked up significantly, but the trademark fast footwork still remains.

And he has clearly learned plenty from a spell in Sydney with amateur side Randwick Greens earlier this summer.

Both Stephenson and Tom Collins, who also went to play for the Greens at the end of last season, have looked razor-sharp during pre-season.

So does Stephenson feel he and Collins got a head-start on their Saints team-mates, who spent the close-season enjoying a well-earned rest?

“We were actually probably a bit overweight when we came back, but we lost that.” Stephenson said.

“It took me a while to get back into the speed of the game so it was definitely worthwhile going over there.

“Maybe we were a little bit ahead in terms of the speed of the game but the boys have been training a lot with the ball in hand this year.

“There’s been a real emphasis on having the ball in hand as much as possible so they’re all pretty much up to speed with it.”

Saints have been desperate to play running rugby since switching their style during last season.

They played some sparkling stuff towards the end of the campaign, and Stephenson’s time with the free-flowing Greens will help him fit into Saints’ attacking picture.

“The style of rugby they play there (at Randwick), they don’t really concentrate on set piece,” he said.

“It’s all about keeping the ball in hand, playing some good rugby and the weather down there allows you to do that.

“It’s good just to get the ball in your hands as much as you can as a back, and fitness wise it helps a lot.

“We were more than ready to come back here and hopefully the season will go right for us.”