NEW Saints second rower Sione Mata’utia is excited by the challenge of representing a team that expects to be in Grand Finals.

The former Newcastle Knight will be battling to secure a starting spot in the back row alongside fellow NRL recruit Joel Thompson and the established young Saints James Bentley and Morgan Knowles.

But that is a challenge he is relishing having to rise to.

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At 24, Mata’utia joins the back-to-back Super champions in the prime of his career after being a one club man at Newcastle for seven seasons.

Although leaving that club was a wrench, with the added difficulties of bringing his family 12,000 miles in the midst of a pandemic, he is confident he has made the right choice.

In coming to St Helens Mata’utia renews his acquaintance with Kristian Woolf, who coached him at the Knights for a couple of years, and that was another key factor in swinging his decision.

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Mata’utia said: “What got me interested is when Woolfy said St Helens are a club that expects to be in the Grand Final, something I haven’t had much of in my career being at a club that is always trying to rebuild.

“When I decided on England I wanted to make sure that I was coming to a club keen on success and Saints were the top of the list.

“Talking to Woolfy he explained that there is a feeling at a club where we are expected to do well and be in the big dance at the end of the season.

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“I definitely wanted to be part of it – and being part of that will bring the best out of me.

“I am training with some good quality players and international players too.

“That is going to raise the bar.

“Everywhere there is quality at the club and I wanted to be part of it and have some silver under my belt.”

Mata’utia has the distinction of being the youngest ever player to represent Australia when he was just 18 in the 2014 Four Nations series.

But he is taking nothing for granted here, and has been impressed with the attitude of his fellow back-rowers.

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“I watched Morgs and Bentos last year and they are tough players.

“They just get their job done and it is going to be tough for me to try and get a spot, but we are all pushing each other.

“I was training alongside Bentos all last week and he was pushing me because I need to be at his level if not better.

“At the end of the day Woolfy is going to pick two back rowers that are doing a job for the team and that is my first port of call, is what is best for the team and moving them forward.

“Seeing Morgs in rehab at the moment, you can see how he is itching to get out there and get his shoulder into a few bodies,” he said.

He has been welcomed by all of the squad, slotting in seamlessly at training.

“I got here pretty late, and the other new boys had already had a few weeks under their belts to get to know everyone.

“But I fitted in straight away and they were welcoming.

“I have also known Tommo for a bit and played against him in the NRL,” he said.

Signed as a back row, Mata’utia has not ruled out fitting back in in the three-quarters if the need arose.

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He said: “I never rule it out.

“I like to have versatility in my game and being able to stay light enough to play in the centres, but strong and quick enough to play in the back row and even in the middle somewhere.

“It adds that bit of value to the team if we lose someone somewhere I think I can slot in there – I like to keep my tools ready to go.”

Pictures: Copyright Bernard Platt.