John Bateman is “firing again” as he prepares to make his eagerly-awaited return to action.
Shaun Wane will unleash him on St Helens tonight after the 23-year-old completed his club-imposed eight-game ban for a town centre scrap with a team-mate.
Bateman was also fined £10,000 for the incident – which triggered speculation he may quit for the NRL – and was initially kept away from training.
But Wane says he has slotted back into the squad with ease and says his attitude has been “outstanding”.
He said: “He’s turned up to train, it was straight-forward (bringing him back in).
“He’s been outstanding. He’s firing again and he will be buzzing. He’s full on and very aggressive, very competitive.”
Former Bradford forward Bateman will belatedly bring up a century of Super League appearances in tonight’s derby.
He was the bookmakers’ favourite for the Man of Steel before controversy derailed his campaign.
And Wane is confident he can get back to his career-best form and draw a line under this high-profile episode. He said: “The way he plays, he’ll soon get that (form) back. He’s an outstanding individual, a great kid. We’ve missed him, he’s one of best players in the competition. He’s ready to play.”
Bateman’s return to action is one of several subplots to today’s derby showdown, which is expected to draw a season-high crowd of 21,000.
Frank-Paul Nuuausala will be making his home debut, after a low-key turnout in the 18-16 loss to Leeds a week ago. And Sam Tomkins will be playing his first game against St Helens in more than three years, as teams at the top jostle for positions before the Super-8s split.
Wane also hopes to welcome back Dom Crosby (injury) and Sean O’Loughlin (ban).
St Helens have overcome a sticky run to win their last four matches and Wane said: “Last week they were outstanding, and they are playing with a lot of confidence now.
“I knew they would come good, they have too many good players, and I have a lot of time for Keiron (Cunningham, coach).
“I’ve got a lot of respect for people at that club – but there’s that rivalry, too.
“This is our most important game, apart from Good Friday. There’s more desire in this game, and a lot of that is down to mutual respect – it’s an intense rivalry.”