St Helens confirm five further first-team promotions as academy stars get chance to shine under local lad Paul Wellens

Ben Olawumi
Paul Wellens

St Helens, headed up by local lad Paul Wellens, will have 18 homegrown talents in their squad come 2024 following the promotion of a further five academy aces into the first-team setup.

Wellens himself was a one-club man with hometown outfit Saints, debuting in 1999 and going on to make 495 appearances in the Red Vee.

The 43-year-old also featured four times for Lancashire, and on the international stage scooped 20 caps for Great Britain as well as 11 in England colours.

Earlier this week, Wellens promoted youngster Jake Burns – who had shone for the club’s reserves side this term – up to the first-team on a permanent basis.

And now, five shining figures from the under 18’s camp have been promoted alongside Burns, rewarded with their first professional deals. They now join the likes of homegrown aces Tommy Makinson, Jack Welsby and Jonny Lomax.

St Helens confirm five further first-team promotions

Forwards Noah Stephens, Leon Cowen and Jonny Vaughan put pen to paper alongside backs Will Roberts and Dayon Sambou, brother of Jumah who has just departed the Totally Wicked Stadium and linked up with ambitious League 1 outfit Oldham ahead of 2024.

Outside-back Dayon signs a two-year deal to remain with the Saints, with the 18-year-old representing both the Lancashire and England Academy squads in 2023.

Fellow back Roberts meanwhile – a scrum-half – scored 11 tries in his first six appearances for Saints’ under-18’s this year, featuring on dual registration for Championship outfit Swinton Lions against Batley Bulldogs in June. The teenager signs a one-year contract, with the club holding the option of an additional year extension come the end of 2024.

Loose forward Stephens – who like Sambou pens a two-year deal – can also feature at prop when required, scoring six tries for the academy side on their run to being crowned champions. The Red Vee hold the option of an additional year come the end of 2025 where the 18-year-old is concerned.

Cowen plays in the same two positions as Stephens, and he also signs on with Saints until the end of 2025. A Crossfields ARLFC junior, the 19-year-old joined the academy setup later than most, on trial in April 2022. The academy captain also appeared for England this term at youth level.

Lastly, Vaughan featured in every game of the under 18’s title-winning season, scoring a hat-trick of tries as they beat Hull FC in the semi-finals. The back-rower can also drop back to centre, and was named as the England Academy captain midway through the year for a game against France. Vaughan signs a two-year deal.

Paul Wellens will give academy aces chances to shine in first-team

Speaking to Saints’ club website, head coach Wellens insisted that the contracts handed out to the five youngsters were just reward for their efforts in a silverware-laden season at academy level.

He said: “We pride ourselves at St Helens on developing young, home-grown talent, and our pathway is as strong as ever, evidenced by our under-18s academy becoming champions.

“Full credit to Derek Traynor and all our youth coaches and staff on that remarkable achievement this year, and for making our youngsters not only better players, but better people too.

“Leon, Will, Dayon, Noah, and Jonny have all been strong in our academy, and we are looking to keep on developing them as players and people. All of them have the potential to be strong players and will be able to learn alongside senior men in our ranks too.

“While we congratulate them on taking this step, this is a beginning, this is a new challenge for them and the hard work starts now.”

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