Matt Whitley already looks at home in a St Helens side seamlessly into their groove

Aaron Bower
Matt Whitley St Helens Alamy

Two games in, yes. I can hear those shouting at the back already. So not a completely full picture of proceedings, naturally.

But you can only judge every team on what we have seen so far and while you may argue the opposition inside the opening two rounds isn’t what you’d describe as elite, the signs look ominously good at St Helens: and for one player in particular.

Everywhere you go, every new signing you speak to, the talk is always of bedding in. How it will take time to adjust to a new club’s structures and systems, and how it will always be more than an overnight settling-in period. Matt Whitley obviously didn’t get the memo in that regard.

That said, he has the advantage of knowing the Saints pretty well given how he was there as a teenager and ultimately let go, and he was a boyhood supporter of the club he now represents. But even with that in mind, this has been some start from the former Widnes Vikings and Catalans back-rower and his team-mates.

Two games in, and the Saints have conceded just a solitary try and scored 13. Whitley himself has three of them, and is joint-top of the early try-scoring table alongside Leeds winger Ash Handley. But Whitley also ranks incredibly highly in a number of other metrics which underline the importance he is having on his new club already.

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He has run for 210 metres in just two games: only Alex Walmsley (250) has made more, and Whitley is inside the competition’s top 15 in that particular regard. His 11 tackle busts are second only to Ryan Hall in the entire competition. These are eye-waveringly good numbers from a player who has been producing this level of form for a good few years, to be honest. It’s just that half of his games have been tucked away in the south of France, where few people have paid as much attention.

But in a Saints shirt, Whitley is impossible to ignore. He oozes class and he has fit seamlessly into a Saints side who have also hit the ground running with some gusto in all aspects. Their other big signing this winter, Daryl Clark, has made a fine start to life as a St Helens player and with the remainder of their spine settled, it’s laid the platform for Paul Wellens‘ side to start brilliantly.

The usual suspects – Alex Walmsley, Jonny Lomax, Jack Welsby – were as consistently impressive as they often are against the Giants. Curtis Sironen is another who has began the season in blistering form. But the fact their new faces, Whitley chief among them, have settled so quickly will offer encouragement for what lies ahead.

The bigger challenges are to come, of course. But you can only play what is in front of you and in terms of ticking boxes, the Saints have done that emphatically in the opening two rounds. One final stat which underlines how impressive they were on Saturday evening? Their completion rate was an astonishing 96%. They completed 32 out of 33 sets in possession. That is anything but reflective of a side easing their way into the new season.

It didn’t take long for the Saints supporters to coin a song for their new homegrown favourite after his debut against London. Keep this form up, and he’ll become one of the most important players in a side that already look well-placed to challenge again in 2024.

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