Coles eager to earn the trust of the Saints coaches
Alex Coles is eager to show that he can be a regular starter for Saints this season.
The lofty lock has already caught the eye during pre-season after becoming the first forward to win the Blakiston Challenge.
In the fourth year of the event, Coles followed backs Dan Biggar, Reuben Bird-Tulloch and Piers Francis by prevailing in the onerous test of strength and endurance at Castle Ashby Gardens.
And now the 21-year-old wants to prove to the Saints coaches that he can deliver huge shifts on the field week in, week out.
“I feel like it’s a massive year for me,” Coles said.
“For the last couple of seasons I’ve been in and around the matchday 23 quite a lot, but mainly from the bench.
“I just want to be in a position where the coaches feel they can start me more regularly.
“I had a chance to start the Ulster game in Europe and I felt that was one of the biggest games of my season.
“I felt I had to do really well against Ulster but I didn’t play as well as I wanted to.
“I feel like this is another big year for me to really stake my claim and make sure I’m a more regular starter.
“This is my first proper pre-season since my first year. I’ve had no interruptions with age group stuff or injury or anything like that.
“I feel like I’m in good shape and I’m improving so hopefully I can take that into the new season.”
Coles is ready to prove that he is not just a player for the future, but that he is ready for the here and now.
He added: "You get to the stage where almost that young player tag seems to give people the idea you're not quite there yet and you want to lose that label and be seen as a first-team player.
"You don't want to be seen as that up and coming player, you want to be seen as someone who is there and who can do it week in, week out.
"That's something I'm hoping to try to prove this season."
The fact Coles won the recent pre-season contest certainly bodes well.
The Blakiston Challenge is an endurance race named in honour of Freddie Blakiston, a flanker for Saints, England and the British Lions.
Blakiston performed a heroic act in the First World War, rescuing wounded men when an ammunition delivery to the front line was attacked by the Germans.
He was subsequently awarded the military cross, and Saints have honoured him with the pre-season challenge, which can last close to an hour and is a gruelling test of stamina.
Coles said: “I was really chuffed with winning that.
“Several things went in my favour. None of the previous winners were there so I had a good opportunity to win it.
“I came back in reasonable shape after the off-season because I couldn’t go on holiday so it all worked out just right.”
Coles is now setting his sights on September's pre-season games against Bedford Blues and Ospreys, and, most importantly, the Gallagher Premiership season opener against Gloucester.
And the Cambridge-born forward knows how vital it is that Saints secure some major silverware in the season ahead.
He said: "It's what all these hours of pre-season are all about: trying to win that trophy.
"Harlequins showed that you can win the Premiership without having a home semi-final and with playing less traditional rugby, a more exciting version so it just goes to show you've got to time your surge right.
"For the past couple of years, we've not timed it so that we peak at the end of the season, which is when it counts.
"Obviously you want to do well all year round but we've had a couple of years of patches of good form and then dropping off so we're just desperate to try to get something tangible in our hands."