St Helens have confirmed the long-awaited signing of Matt Whitley from Catalans Dragons, joining his boyhood club on a two-year deal from 2024.
The Billinge-born back-rower – a Saints supporter in his youth – is a product of the Widnes Vikings academy and having debuted in 2015, he made 101 appearances for the Cheshire outfit before moving on to Catalans ahead of the 2019 season.
During his five-year stint in Perpignan with the Dragons, in which he’s made 103 appearances, he’s twice featured at Old Trafford.
The latest of those, of course came, last Saturday as they were beaten by Wigan Warriors, but Whitley’s first appearance at the Theatre of Dreams came in 2021 when Kristian Woolf’s Saints side became three-peat champions.
St Helens announce Matt Whitley signing: ‘I’ve been looking forward to this since I was a little lad’
Whitley’s move back to England and the Totally Wicked Stadium has been in the works for a number of months, with Catalans earlier this month confirming that he would be departing come the end of the season.
The forward grew up in nearby Newton-le-Willows, and was involved with the Red Vee at a young age before being snapped up by Widnes.
Penning a deal until the end of 2025, he said: “I’m over the moon! I’ve been looking forward to this since I was a little lad and for it to be finally happening it is something I’m really excited about.
“It feels like a full circle moment, I spent a lot of my younger playing days at Saints but had to go elsewhere at 16, so to come back again now, a more established player, I’m really looking forward to it.
“Saints know what it takes to win the big games and are always fighting for silverware. I hopefully can add to that and we can go one step further than this year, and I can get that Super League winners ring I’ve been looking for.
“I’ve made it to two Grand Finals now but lost both, it’s not a feeling I want to keep having – I want to get that win. It adds to the experience and the hunger, and I’ll be working as hard as ever to get that next year.”
“I’ve played quite a few times at Saints, there’s always a lot of fans who support and the fans love nothing more than their rugby team. I know that from a personal level too. To have them shouting for me will be a lot better than getting jeered when I’ve been there previously!”
Saints chief Paul Wellens looking forward to selection headache come 2024
2021 League Leaders’ Shield winner Whitley links up with his boyhood club having crossed for 55 tries in his career to date, appearing twice for England Knights. The 27-year-old is yet to receive a first senior international call-up.
Linking back up with Saints, he will be headed up by coach Paul Wellens, who is also a lifelong fan of the club and an indisputable legend. The Red Vee’s chief is looking forward to seeing the back-rower shine in 2024, adding: “We are very happy to have acquired the services of Matt.
“Not only is he a great player but having met him he is a really nice bloke too, that is something we look for when we bring in players into the Club.
“He has shown at the back end of the year with Catalans that he is comfortable competing in high-intensity games, and that is what we are all about here.
“It’s great to have him on board, he adds competition for places as well which is really healthy for a team that wants to grow and improve.
“It’s going to be a headache to try and pick our best 17 next year, particularly if everyone is fit, but as we have seen throughout the course of 2022 and 2023, through the year you miss players for various reasons at times.
“The key to any successful team is having not just a strong team, but a strong squad as well, and that’s what we’ve looked to assemble for next year.”