St Helens exclusive: Waqa Blake targets Grand Final glory, hails ‘freak’ Jack Welsby & details honour of #3 shirt

Ben Olawumi
Waqa Blake St Helens Alamy

Fiji international Waqa Blake has joined St Helens for 2024 - Alamy

Waqa Blake wasn’t keen on coming over to Super League this off-season. He had his sights set on finding a new club Down Under in the NRL. That was until St Helens came calling, a club he couldn’t refuse.

Blake had been let go by Parramatta Eels after four-and-a-half years at the CommBank Stadium, scoring 28 tries in 77 NRL appearances for Brad Arthur’s side, with one of those 77 in the 2022 NRL Grand Final defeat to former club Penrith Panthers.

Prior, debuting at senior level in 2015, he’d scored 34 in 88 games for the Panthers, so the 29-year-old could be forgiven for wanting to stick around Down Under.

But a couple of his Fiji international colleagues helped him make his mind up when a switch to the Totally Wicked Stadium became a viable option, including one of Saints’ recent much-loved sons.

St Helens exclusive: Waqa Blake explains Super League switch

Lautoka-born Blake spoke exclusively to Love Rugby League about his move to the North West at Saints’ pre-season media day earlier this week, detailing: “I had a few teams chasing me before the (off-season) break, and I wasn’t too keen to come over to be honest.

“I felt like I needed a couple of more years in the NRL, but that wasn’t going to be the case, because there was nothing popping up.

“Even when teams were popping in Super League, I wasn’t too keen, but as soon as St Helens came up, it was a no-brainer for me.

“I think we were talking in the New Year, you just look at the history of the club and the players they’ve got… We held talks straight away, I was keen and they were keen, so I think it was just perfect timing.

“I spoke to Kevin Naiqama too, and King (Vuniyayawa) who plays at Salford. Kevvy, when he played that 2021 year and came to the (Sydney) Roosters, we played for Fiji Bati together and he said how much he loved it here.

“He played well over here, and that gave me a bit of hope coming over here. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I’m sure we’ll link up together soon.”

New Saints signing Blake talks settling into life in England as he hails ‘freak’ Jack Welsby

Like most who come to Super League from the NRL, Blake admits he is still learning about the competition and adjusting to his surroundings, but insists he couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome since arriving in the North West.

Among those greeting him with open arms is Jack Welsby, who Blake watched captain England against Tonga in the autumn, and has sung the praises of.

Jack Welsby, St Helens
Jack Welsby in action for St Helens in 2023 – Alamy

The outside-back added: “The food here so far has been good! I’ve been staying at a pub locally, and I’ve just moved into my apartment, but the food has been exceptional.  It’s just been cold, but if you dress for the occasion, it’s all good.

“It’s just me over here at the minute, I’ve just signed for the one year and then if I do like it and I’m able to stay, then that’s what I’ll do (bringing family over).

“I know the (Super League) teams and all that, but I’ve been caught up in the NRL a lot. I already know a lot of the boys who play for England, and I’m lucky enough to be in a team where we’ve got four or five of them, so that helps.

“Seeing Jack Welsby at training, he’s a freak, he’s unbelievable, and a great guy too. I’m lucky to be able to mix in with these kind of players now, and I’m looking forward to ripping in when the season comes around.”

Fiji international targets Super League Grand Final glory with St Helens

The back’s junior rugby career saw him pull on a shirt for the Brighton Seagulls, Joondalup Giants & Perth Pirates, before eventually getting his break with Penrith.

Prior to getting his chance at senior level with the Panthers, he featured in Grand Finals at both under-20 level and in the New South Wales Cup.

Winning both, Blake and his young Panthers team-mates were beaten after the latter in the 2014 instalment of the ‘NRL State Championship’ match, which sees the NSW Cup winners face off against the winners of the Queensland Cup.

Waqa Blake
Waqa Blake warms up ahead of a Parramatta Eels game in 2023 – Alamy

Now joining a Saints team which between 2019 and 2022 won four Super League Grand Finals in a row, the aim is clear for Blake – success at Old Trafford to help the Red V regain their crown.

Blake told us: “Coming over, they’d won four in a row (before last season), and winning like that, it’s very hard to sort of keep it up.

“Now they’ve been knocked off the top, it gives them another reason, and that’s why it feels like I’ve come over here at a good time.

“They are a team who know how to win, they’ve been there before, and it’s not only that, I want to be there with them this time around.

“I’ve never won a Grand Final (at senior level), I’ve obviously played in one, but what a team to come to for me to have an opportunity to win one. 100%, that’s the aim.”

Blake details honour of wearing St Helens’ #3 shirt, following in the footsteps of international colleague Kevin Naiqama

When St Helens announced their squad numbers back in November, they left the #3 shirt vacant. The number had been relinquished following the retirement of Will Hopoate.

Saints boss Paul Wellens exclusively told Love Rugby League in the middle of January that the club were still searching for a new signing to take up that vacant spot and shirt.

Kevin Naiqama try, 2021 Super League Grand Final
Wearing #3, St Helens’ Kevin Naiqama crashes over for a try in the 2021 Super League Grand Final – Alamy

And sure enough, that man turned out to be Blake, whose arrival on a one-year deal was confirmed by the club just a few hours later.

Now with Huddersfield Giants, Blake’s long-time friend Naiqama wore the same number on his back when he crossed for a brace of tries in the 2021 Grand Final triumph against Catalans Dragons, scooping the Harry Sunderland Trophy, and the Red V’s new recruit says he’s honoured to be handed the jersey.

The 29-year-old said: “Will‘s a great player and everyone knows that, wherever he’s been. I don’t want to be like him, because you can’t be like him… he’s his own thing.

“But what I want to do is do the number three jersey proud. It doesn’t matter who wears the jersey, it’s about that jersey, it’s not about who is wearing it.

“It’s about making sure you leave that jersey on the right terms for the next person, and I’ve been lucky enough to get given the three jersey from Will.

“Previously, Kevvy and Jamie Lyon, one of the best, have both worn it too, so I take this very seriously about how much this jersey will mean to me.”

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