Daryl Clark becomes only the third man in almost 30 years to wear the No. 9 shirt at St Helens as he takes the reins from the legendary James Roby.
Clark will follow in the footsteps of stalwarts Keiron Cunningham and Roby in wearing the club’s famous jersey, having made the move to Saints from neighbours Warrington Wolves on a three-year contract in the off-season.
And for the first season since 2003, there will be no Roby amongst the first team playing squad after the iconic hooker hung up his boots at the end of last season following a trophy-laden career in the Red V.
Roby retired as the club’s all-time appearance holder with 551 to his name, going alongside his six Super League titles, four Challenge Cups, eight League Leaders’ Shields and two World Club Challenge titles.
Speaking to Love Rugby League at the club’s media day, England international Clark says he is under no illusions that comparisons are going to be made, but is keen to write his own script in Saints folklore.
“I’m pretty laid back with stuff like that, I try not to let it affect me and I just get on with the game but once the games start I understand the expectation from a fan’s perspective,” Clark said with a smile.
“It’s a weird one because Robes was here for the best part of 20 years, he’s won a lot of silverware and for the time I’m going to be here, it’s going to be impossible to replicate or overachieve what Robes has done.
“I’ve got three years at least but I’m not going to do 18 or 20 years like Robes did, so I’m under no illusion that I’m not going to be able to replicate what he’s done over a long period of time but hopefully I can write my own little bit of history and have my own bit of silverware in there to tag my name to, but all I can do is give my best for the time I’m here. I’m under no illusion I can’t achieve what Robes has done in 20 years!
“He’s been here and worn that shirt for a long time so naturally fans are going to gravitate towards his performances but if I play to my best or anywhere near my best, then I think I can add value to the team.
“As long as fans judge me on my performances and not on Robes over the last 20 years I think I’ll be alright!”
Paul Wellens’ words to Daryl Clark: ‘He will improve us as a team in his own right’
St Helens coach Paul Wellens, who is entering his second season in charge of his hometown club, simply wants Clark to play his own game – he is a former Man of Steel after all.
For Wellens, it’s not about replacing Roby. The club aren’t looking to do that.
“Robes is there for advice whenever is needed and Robes will be honest with Daryl should he want that advice,” Wellens told Love Rugby League.
“I’m sure they’ve had conversations and I don’t need to know about them, but one thing that I’ve always said since we signed Daryl is that we’re certainly not looking to replace James Roby.
“James Roby made a huge success in his career at the club because he didn’t try to replace Keiron Cunningham, he was just the best version of himself and that’s the same challenge for Daryl Clark.
“If Daryl Clark goes out there and is the best version of himself he will improve us as a team because in his own right he is a great player.
“He has been a great player for a number of years and as we sit here now he is England’s number nine, so just be you, and if you do then I’ll be very happy.”
James Roby on hand for any advice in new off-field role with St Helens
That means the Saints icon will still be around if Clark should need it at any point during his time at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
“Robes does a lot of stuff, he’s got a bit of a different title, he does a bit on the field, off the field, culture meetings and things like that,” Clark said.
“I’ve had a couple of individual chats with him and chats as a team, and I’m pretty sure once we start getting into the games if there’s anything I need advice on, he is pretty easy to speak to and obviously for me, there’s nobody better to ask than the guy who was there before me.
“I’m pretty sure as we go into the season and the games start rolling out that if there’s anything I need I can turn to him and ask for any advice.”
Clark is enjoying working under another club legend in Wellens, who guided his boyhood club to a historic World Club Challenge victory over Penrith Panthers on Australian soil last year.
“I worked a little bit with Wello a few years ago for England,” Clark said. “He was only assistant then and obviously, internationally, you don’t get much time to work on individual stuff, it’s normally short and sharp stuff – but it’s been enjoyable.
“I started the week before Christmas so I’ve been in for seven weeks now and I’m getting into the hang of how he wants to play and how the team play and the flow of things, so it’s been really enjoyable.”