Daryl Clark debut in focus: St Helens recruit gets off to a dazzling start

Drew Darbyshire
Daryl Clark St Helens Alamy

Daryl Clark in action for St Helens

Daryl Clark made an impressive start to life at St Helens, playing a starring role in a 40-4 rout of London Broncos in the opening round.

Excitement, nerves, pleasing: just some of the words used by Clark to describe pulling on the Red V shirt for the first time as 14,000 fans watched Saints kick off their 2024 Super League campaign against the newly-promoted Broncos, including his wife and two children.

Although Wellens’ troops were heavy favourites to win, Clark knew they couldn’t take the Broncos lightly, with Mike Eccles’ side being in Super League on merit, having battled hard to win promotion from the Championship last term.

It was an impressive debut from new recruit Clark, who has taken the club’s famous No. 9 jersey from the legendary James Roby, who hung up his boots at the end of last season following a trophy-laden career.

Clark, a former Man of Steel, was Saints’ top tackler on Friday, making 33 tackles, with nine of those being from marker.

But he was his effective self in attack, too, making five runs from dummy half as he got on the scoresheet as well as providing an assist for Alex Walmsley.

With an emphasis on a cleaner ruck and tidy markers this season, Clark could be in for one of his biggest seasons to date, busting five tackles and making a clean break which led to Walmsley’s try.

Daryl Clark vs London Broncos

Excitement, nerves, pleasing: Daryl Clark gets off to a winning start with St Helens

Love Rugby League went along to the Totally Wicked Stadium to witness Clark’s debut, speaking to the man himself as well as his coach Paul Wellens afterwards.

Speaking to Love Rugby League after the game, Clark said: “It felt good, obviously I’ve been excited for it for a while and to get out there, have a decent performance and get a decent win is obviously pleasing.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance but there’s a lot of good things to take out of that and also a lot to work on. It’s only Round One but I was happy with the start.

“I just wanted to hit the ground running and have a solid first performance and I felt like I did that. It wasn’t perfect but I’m happy with it.

“I was excited all day and had a bit of nerves as well, but I really enjoyed it. It was my first time playing here in a home changing room and my first time pulling on the Red V, so it felt good.”

With Moses Mbye currently sidelined through injury, Clark took on more minutes in the opening round, playing 73 minutes before coming off for the closing stages.

“Obviously Moses is normally going to be there but we had Wingy (Jake Wingfield) there, so I did him a favour by staying out there a bit longer because I don’t think he was too keen on it!” Clark laughed. “Hopefully Moses will be back in a couple of weeks and we can drop those minutes a little bit.

“Obviously I can do (80 minutes) but it’s a long season, we play a lot of games and you don’t want to be doing it every game but I’m sure there’ll be times throughout the year where I can do it but we’ve got a big squad with quality players, so I think we’ll share it about, I’ll just take what comes.”

INSIDE THE DEAL: How St Helens fended off the NRL to secure Jack Welsby long-term

Saints boss Paul Wellens on Daryl Clark: ‘I think if he’s at his best or close to his best, he improves us as a team’

Clark has arrived at St Helens on a three-year contract from Super League neighbours Warrington, taking the No. 9 jersey from club stalwart Roby upon his arrival.

And whilst comparisons to Roby would undoubtedly be a talking point before a ball was kicked, Wellens’ message to Clark always remained the same: just go out there and be the best version of yourself.

Wellens said: “I know Daryl has been asked numerous times ‘how do you replace James Roby?’ and I know I’ve been asked that same question and the answer is always the same: just be the best version of yourself.

“James Roby made a huge success of his career as a number nine because he was the best version of himself, he didn’t try to replace Keiron Cunningham. What every player in the squad has got to do is just go and be you, and do you at your best.

“There’s a lot to like about what Daryl did tonight and a lot to like about what he can bring to the team. I’ve said numerous times that if he’s at his best or close to his best, I think he improves us as a team.”

The 31-year-old, who played in all three of England‘s wins over Tonga last autumn, is renowned for his running game from dummy half, and it’s certainly something Wellens encourages.

“He’s got an eye for that,” Wellens told Love Rugby League. “He’s got a real instinct for it.

“I think he’s done that since being a young player, but it’s certainly something I encourage as well.

“We spoke just then around the way the game is changing, and there is a real emphasis on cleaning up the ruck era and what that does is brings running nines into the game and, in both Daryl and Moses, we’ve got two who like to get out and challenge the defensive line, and we encourage them to do that as much as we can.”

Next up for St Helens and Clark is a trip across the Pennines to Huddersfield next Saturday night.

READ NEXT: St Helens stalwart Mark Percival opens up on why he’s committed his long-term future to the club