Catalans Dragons have this afternoon announced that star back-rower Matt Whitley will leave the club at the end of this season, with a move to St Helens expected to be confirmed soon.
The forward – born in Billinge – marked his 100th appearance for the Dragons in 61-0 home win against Leeds Rhinos last weekend having arrived in the South of France ahead of the 2019 campaign.
Playing in the 2021 Grand Final defeat by Saints at Old Trafford, Whitley has thus far crossed for 34 tries in Catalans colours, including six this to date this term.
He penned a two-year extension to his contract with the Perpignan outfit in June 2022, but it’s been widely reported – including by Love Rugby League – throughout this year that he would be moving on, and that’s proved to be the case.
Matt Whitley to leave Catalans Dragons at the end of the year; St Helens in line to capture forward
In a statement published on the Dragons’ website today, Whitley said: “It has been a really difficult decision for me and my family to leave, but I am really proud and grateful to have played 100 games and to have spent the last 5 years here.
“Thank you to all the members of staff, players and sponsors for the work they have put in with me since joining the club.”
Meanwhile, coach Steve McNamara – who has been the man at the helm at the State Gilbert Brutus since 2017 – added: “Matt has been tremendous from the day he arrived at the club.
“His contribution to the development of our team and the way he has embraced everything about the Dragons has been outstanding.
“He will be a big loss to us, but we part on great terms as we completely understand his reasons for heading back to England with his young family.”
Forward all set for return to England
27-year-old Whitley is a two-time England Knights international, and a player that teammate and former Man of Steel Sam Tomkins deems ‘outstanding’, saying he’s ‘mithered Shaun Wane to death’ about calling him up to the Three Lions’ senior set-up.
Back in June, after a Magic Weekend win over Wigan Warriors which saw the forward grab a brace of tries, club boss McNamara admitted he expected to lose him come the end of the year.
The highly-rated forward previously made over a century of appearances for Widnes Vikings, making his senior bow with them in 2015 and departing for Catalans after the Vikings had been relegated from Super League in 2018.
Having crossed the whitewash 20 times for Widnes in his four years there, he now looks set to return to the local area, with reigning Super League champions Saints needing to bolster their forward pack as members of the current squad at the Totally Wicked Stadium head for the exit door.
Before Whitley links up with his new teammates, he could yet face them in this year’s play-offs, with a repeat of the 2021 Grand Final still very much a possibility.