Talentspotter: Aaron Smith could be the next No. 9 at St Helens

Photo courtesy of Richard Long

When the legend James Roby decides to retire – which might not be for a while yet – St Helens might not have to look far for a replacement.

Roby’s replacement is right under their noses in the name of a young kid called Aaron Smith, who hails from Newton-le-Willows.

The former England Academy international has been at hometown club St Helens for 11 years now after joining the club’s development programme when he was just 11.

It was at Hull KR where the hooker made his Super League debut though, spending a month on loan at the Robins towards the back end of the 2018 campaign.

And after spending time on loan at York and Featherstone in the lower divisions, Smith finally got his shot at Saints in a 26-22 win against Catalans Dragons in Perpignan.

On Smith, Saints coach Justin Holbrook commented: “Full credit to Aaron, he had to go and play in League 1 for a bit with York and then he went to the Championship with Featherstone and then he got a shot at Super League with Hull KR.

“So for a young kid, he has had to go to very different environments and play at different teams but he is now reaping the rewards.

“He is now in the top 20 of the first-team squad here now and that is a credit to his attitude last year.

“A lot of players choose to sit and wait for a chance and then not play but he went out of his way to get games and it is a great reward for him.”

Photo courtesy of Richard Long

Smith, who was part of Saints’ Under-19s side that went the season unbeaten in 2016, has already played four games for St Helens this year.

He has filled in for England international Roby when needed and he has caught the eye of Holbrook, who has handed him a new four-year deal.

Holbrook added: “He’s not your obvious academy kid. He is a quiet, natured guy which is unusual for that type of position.

“But his work ethic and character is first class and that’s what we want to have here.

“All clubs talk about having guys and good people at their club and he definitely fits that mould.

“It’s great for him to stay here and also great for the club to have him commit here for the next few years.”

Roby turns 34 in the off-season but he is showing no signs of slowing down just yet as he competes with the likes of Blake Austin, David Fifita and Jackson Hastings for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.

Smith will probably have to bide his time to become an out-and-out regular, but what better man to learn from than Roby?

Holbrook added: “All a young kid from St Helens wants to do is play first-team for Saints in Super League.

“Aaron played one game last year and he’s played a few this year. He’s proved he’s a Super League player, so it’s great for him and the club that he’s staying on for a few more years.

“He can learn a lot more from Robes over the next couple of years and we’ve got no hesitation that if he’s needed, then he’ll play.”

Smith came through the junior ranks at St Helens-based amateur club Blackbrook Royals and attended Hope Academy.

Photo courtesy of Richard Long