Matt Whitley is possibly the most travelled rugby league player in Super League this year, having flown over 40,000 miles to finally land in Perpignan.
The 22-year-old England Knights star has signed a two year deal with Catalans Dragons and has just completed his first week of pre-season training.
“I’m glad to get stuck in on the pitch,” he told Love Rugby League, “It makes a change from flying all around the world.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind this year. I’ve been to Toulouse, Toronto and Perpignan with Widnes and then Papua New Guinea and Australia with the Knights. It’s been an amazing experience but I’m glad to have my feet back on the ground again.”
Whitley said he’s fully focused on his role in Perpignan, but he still has a soft spot for his former club.
“It was awful last year being relegated to the championship,” said Whitley. “Widnes are a great club and I’ll be forever grateful to them for giving me my chance. I played 100 games there and enjoyed every minute of it.
“It was very sad to be part of the team that went down but the club has a strong squad and with the new signings of Anthony Gelling and Krisnan Inu I’m sure they’re in with a good shot at bouncing back up into Super League straight away.
“They’ve got a lot of young talent at Widnes, the Chapelhow twins, Tom Gilmore, Danny Craven, Owen Farnworth, Liam Walsh and Owen Buckley. These lads are the future of the club, and if you add the experience of the new signings I think Widnes will be back very soon.”
Whitley has settled in quickly at Stade Gilbert Brutus and the challenges of a foreign language and lifestyle have been made easier by the arrival of a familiar face with former Widnes prop Eamonn O’Carroll joining the coaching staff at the Dragons.
“The language is a bit of a blur at the moment, I’m definitely signing up for lessons,” said Whitley, “But it was great to see Freddy (O’Carroll’s nickname) on the pitch at training. It really helped me to settle in, he’s a great coach and I’m learning very quickly from Steve McNamara (head coach) and Richard Hunwicks (Head of Performance). Training’s been tough, which is what you want, but it’s been technical too.
“It’s a great set-up here in Perpignan and the club has been very friendly and helpful.
“I realise I’ve got a challenge to break into what is a very strong pack here at Catalans but it’s very simple, I’m going to work as hard as possible and take my chances when they come.
“I’m and out and out second-rower, I like the physical side of the game, the tackling and the contact.
“It’s up to us as forwards to dominate games. Catalans are famous for being hard to beat here in Perpignan and I want to be a part of that.
“It’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to the start of the season. All of my energy and focus will be on success for Catalans, but I will be keeping an eye on my old mates at Widnes.”