The Breakdown: Matty Smith analyses St Helens’ attack revamp and new Lewis Dodd role

Aaron Bower

Throughout this year, Love Rugby League has teamed up with former St Helens, Wigan and England scrum-half Matty Smith to provide more in-depth tactical analysis on the game’s big talking points than ever before.

Smith, who is head coach of the Saints’ women’s side and also on Paul Wellens’ coaching staff for the men’s side, will provide an insight into the tactical breakdown of Super League and how the biggest and best moments have happened.

For his first instalment, Smith has broken down how the arrival of Daryl Clark has shifted the Saints’ approach to the game but more importantly, how it has enabled Lewis Dodd to move into a new role that will potentially elevate his game to new heights..

I don’t mean any disrespect here towards Robes, but if you look at Daz and look at Robes, two or three years ago they were very similar but last year, perhaps not. They love to run the ball and they thrive off quick rucks. They’re devastating at times, or they have been.

That’s where we saw Daz and why we identified him. When you’re playing behind a pack of Alex Walmsley, Sione Mata’utia, Agnatius Paasi, people like that, you’re going to create quick rucks.

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Wello’s thinking was we wanted him to fit the way we wanted to play but also we’d identified that change in style as a priority. Getting back to the way of playing fast, because the game is speeding up. It suits Daz’s game and suits this squad. It was a perfect signing for us and he’s started really well.

Daryl Clark St Helens Alamy
Daryl Clark in action for St Helens

Having Daz in the side allows us to be a bit more open and that’s only going to improve. We’re rediscovering that way of playing from when Robes was doing that two or three years ago.

It’s about trying to create that quick ruck and it’s a reaction sport, and we’ve got people like Jack Welsby, Doddy and Jonny Lomax who are off-the-cuff players, they play what they see. He is the ideal fit for that spine to benefit those players.

You can’t hold those three lads back. I was more of a structured player, I wasn’t as fast as any of those lads! My right boot was decent and my mouth was good but in terms of players, them three I’ve mentioned, they can play to a structure but you’ve really just got to let them go.

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They come up with things I can only dream of doing. We have a set structure to an extent but once we get a quick ruck it’s play what you see, and let the talent do the rest. That takes care of itself. It’s a special group, this, we’re destined for a big year I believe. We just came up short last year but hopefully this one will be a good one.

We’ve changed the way we’re playing this year for the benefit of us as a group but also for Doddy. They had a free role last year, all of them, but Daz is really going to help Doddy’s game in particular.

He’s owning that middle of the field, tram to tram, and the six and the one are playing off that. He’s playing as a first receiver now and that’s where he’s at his best, talking and directing. Jonny and Jack have a free role as second receivers.

Dodd (circled red) last year, where he was tasked with running an entire edge on the left, with Jonny Lomax on the right and Jack Welsby in a free role.

That’s different in the sense of last year, Jonny and Lewis played split – what I mean by that is they both had an edge last year. Doddy played on the left, and Jonny was on the right, and Jack had that free role, as you can see from above.

Now, Doddy is first receiver on both sides of the ruck, he sits close to him and the other guys, Jonny and Jack, now have an edge each, which is illustrated below:

Dodd (again circled red) now plays closer to Daryl Clark, with Jonny Lomax (circled black, left) on the left edge and Jack Welsby (circled black, right) on the right.

They can float and if we go left or right, we’ve got someone there and Lewis is in the middle of that field, working with his middles. That’s his strength and I can see that in him. He’s also got that injection of speed and a step; we still want him to run and be threatening with the ball, but we want him to be the controlling half, and the general. Daz being in the team has led to that change.

Sometimes there’s too many voices and we’ve tasked him with being the leader. I think that’s what he wants and that’s where the staff see him.

The other two are so effective out wide too – it’s a no-brainer when you look at it and it’s working well at the minute. We’ve started where we want to be, there’s loads of improvements in us, but the change in shape and approach has gone really well.

Throughout 2024, Smith will also be providing a monthly column in his role as St Helens’ women’s coach, too. The first edition is out next week. 

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