FOLLOWING this week’s confirmation that Sione Mata’utia will be Saints’ third NRL signing for 2021, boss Kristian Woolf has explained where he sees the recruits fitting in.

Saints had previously announced Joel Thompson and prop Agnatius Paasi, but this week announced the 24-year-old Mata’utia – the youngest player to play for the Australian national team.

This week also saw the confirmation that popular back-row Dom Peyroux will be joining fellow Saint at Toulouse next year. Zeb Taia is also departing, and James Graham is retiring at the end of this campaign.

Woolf, who coached Mata’utia at Newcastle Knights last year, has good knowledge of the latest recruit.

The Star’s Mike Critchley caught up with the coach to ask what the latest recruits bring and where they will fit in at Saints.

MC: What do you expect Sione Mata’utia to bring to the team?

KW: He will bring a lot. On the field he has a really good punch in his carries, whether he plays in the middle or on the edge, and good leg speed and a skillset with the ball as well.

He offers us a lot in attack, but he is also a very good defender.

And like a lot of guys who have been centres, but move into the second row or into the middle, they tend to be really good movers and really good defenders.

A guy like James Bentley is a really good example of that.

That is what he offers on the field.

I have had the privilege of coaching him before – he is a real professional and a terrific fella and a bloke who is going to fit into the group really well, who everyone will like and admire.

He prepares himself to play really well every and ticks all the boxes as a player you want at your club.

St Helens Star:

MC: Are his days in the centre over? Has he been signed purely as a back-row?

KW: We are not bringing Sione in to play centre, we have enough of those already, particularly with the rise of Josh Simm and Jack Welsby and we are going to have Mark Percival back next year as well.

Those young guys are only going to be better for the experience of this year and Mark Percival is going to come back like a new player next season.

We are well covered there in the centres.

We are bringing in Sione as an edge or middle player and you certainly need, if you look at a 17, at least three players in your squad who can cover the edges.

And you need a good rotation through the middle as well.

Once he gets here we will figure out where he fits best but I know he is a good player who will find his way into the side somewhere.

St Helens Star:

MC: With James Bentley and Morgan Knowles getting better with each year, and Mata’utia and Thompson coming in, how do you envisage that back row coming together in 2021?

KW: There will be no dramas about all four of those fitting into the 17. If you have a look at what we have done most of the time this year we have had someone on the bench who can play some middle and play some edge.

We will figure out who that is and who starts – but you would think that Morgan Knowles and James Bentley, with what they have done this year, will be the front runners for their positions.

You need depth in that position.

MC: Sione’s versatility must be an additional bonus?

KW: The good thing about having guys like Sione and James Bentley, who both fit into this mould, is that they are versatile players who are good in their own positions but a number of games this year where we have lost outside backs – and the best example being Warrington in the cup – when we lost Mark Percival and Jack Welsby within 15 minutes of each other, you need guys who are versatile enough to play out wide and James and Sione do that as well.

It adds to the versatility of what we have in the team and strengthens us in the key positions where we are bringing those players in to play.

St Helens Star:

MC: Mata’utia is relatively young for an NRL signing – that must be a bonus?

KW: He has got his best years of footy in front of him like a lot of the re-signings that we have done.

They are all going to get better over the next couple of years and hit their peaks over the next couple of years. They are going to get the opportunity to do that together as well.

Agnatius Paasi fits into that as well, being only 28 for a front rower.

We have got an older squad at the moment so it was important that with some of the changes we bring in some younger legs, but at the same time you don’t want to throw that experience away.

That is where the likes of Kyle, Louie and Big Al come in, and Joel Thompson will add to that bit of leadership.

We have a good mix with the guys we have re-signed, the ones we have brought in and the young blokes we are going to elevate in the group, Jake Wingfield, Lewis Dodd, Josh Simm, Jack Welsby and Joe Batchelor – those guys will have more responsibility next year as well.

St Helens Star:

MC: Given your knowledge of Paasi and Mata’utia, are these players you have specifically gone out to find and bring here?

KW: When we knew what spots we were going to have available, we wanted to have a look and see who would improve us as a squad. That is what we are trying to do.

All of those guys that we are bringing in are ones I have had an association with somewhere or am familiar with.

That helps because I knew exactly who we are bringing in and what their strengths are and what they can improve in their games – as well as knowing that they will fit in what we have in the squad as well.

MC: The prospect of having Agnatius Paasi running in tandem with Big Al would provide some real go-forward?

KW: That is something we really looked at too. We have got a tough, hard-working forward pack – and love the pack we have and it is one that does want to play so tough and work so hard.

But having another big body in there and a real go-forward man is important.

He brings a lot; he’s a big body but his best attribute is the way he carries the football. He is a smart player as well and knows how to use his skillset. He can pass and offload and has a fair bit to his game.

I have coached him before – and that was in a tough encounter – and he really stood out in that game. That is something we know we are going to need over here as well as all those other attributes.

St Helens Star:

MC: Has it been difficult for you as coach to make decisions on the squad in the middle of the pandemic, particularly losing four months in the year?

KW: It has because some blokes I have had to make a decision on after only seeing a few games at the start of the year.

That does present challenges, but as I have said all along, what I did want to do is get our key retention done first and with the likes of Bentley, Knowles, Matty Lees – and then the young fellas coming through – blokes playing well enough with their best footy ahead of them.

It meant that we could then work around those guys in terms of what we need to bring in from elsewhere