THE contrasting styles and physical attributes of the components within Saints’ middle unit complement each other – and that has been a key plank in the three-peat champions run of success.

Whilst the defence scattering gallops of Alex Walmsley and the big carries of impact prop Agnatius Paasi jump out, the relentless enthusiasm, energy and aggression offered by Matty Lees is equally important even if it does often goes under the radar.

The 24-year-old former Rochdale Mayfield junior continues grow and mature into a top-notch starting front rower, earning an England call-up against the All Stars this year and Saints coach Kristian Woolf has backed Lees to become a fully-fledged international in the near future.

In Walmsley’s absence at Magic a fortnight ago Lees stepped up to lead the pack, alongside Agnatius Paasi, in the tough win over Wigan at Newcastle.

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Woolf said: “Matty is a different player to both Al and Iggy – just as Iggy is different to Al. We need that bit of balance and that is what successful forward packs look like.

“His game is based on his athleticism, his speed, his willingness to work really hard and to do that for longer periods than the other two blokes can.

“He brings a good intensity and really good physicality and an outstanding aggression as he has learned how to control that.

“He has become really effective for us and become a terrific player in his own right.

“If you ask Al – he can’t do what he does without standing beside Matty Lees and Morgan Knowles.

“Both the other two blokes respect Al in the same way – they are a great combination who balance each other out really well, work really well and complement each other.

“That’s what makes them all be at their best.

“If you throw in Agnatius and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and our third player off the bench then they certainly complement each other and do the same thing.”

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Lees enjoyed an outstanding tour to Papua New Guinea with England Knights in 2018 and was Super League's Young Player of the Year in 2019.

Als, that season was cut short when he suffered an horrendous perforated bowel injury from the impact of a tackle against Leeds.

But once fully recovered he was back up and running it in as hard and as fearlessly as ever.

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Lees is lighter and leaner than a lot of front rowers, but the game has moved on since the days when Bradford Bulls’ ‘awesome foursome’ was steamrollering teams in the early noughties.

Woolf believes the six again restart rule brought in for minor infringements after the return from the Covid lockdown break has benefited that aspect of the game by encouraging a degree of contrast in the middle units and playing to the strengths of the more athletic players with a big engine.

“Sometimes the six again rule cops some flak – and there can be inconsistencies in it.

“But what it has done is bring those smaller, athletic middles like a Matty Lees or a Morgan Knowles to the fore a bit more and the game is not just about big men, or trying to belt the opposition into submission with big man after big man.

“It is a lot more about the war of attrition and that mental toughness, and the little bit of skill and finesse that comes with those smaller guys.

“That is where I think the game has balanced out a bit more with that rule.

“I am a fan of the rule for those reasons and it has brought about a real positive change for those reasons,” Woolf said.

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In bygone eras, Lees would have inevitably been given the instruction to bulk up – but Woolf is content to see him gradually and naturally add more size with age and through the strength and conditioning week.

By doing that, Lees’ game won’t need to radically alter from what he is producing now.

“Matty has put a little bit more weight on over the years, with his age and being in the full time system with the work we do with the physical attributes allows him to do that.

“Over the course of the next couple of years he is going to put on an extra three or four kilos quite naturally and be able to handle that and carry that without having to change his game.

“That is the important thing – if we try and put those three or four kilos on him in 12 months then he changes his game and who he is as a player.

“If we do that over a number of years, we get a more effective player as he matures.

“What we want is the best version of Matty Lees – a terrific player who brings so many attributes to our team.

“He is going to become an international this year – and if not then the very near future.

“It is about the end result and where we can get him to and the best version of rather than a short-term solution,” Woolf said.