ALTHOUGH much of Leeds’ focus on Saturday appears to be about stopping Alex Walmsley, his starting front row partner Matty Lees will continue to step it up after a strong start to the 2021 Super League campaign.

Having spent the longer than usual off-season getting bigger and stronger, the England Knights packman has set about putting those extra three kilos to good use.

Running in tandem with Walmsley, the 2019 Super League young player of the year started strongly in the opener against Salford.

And he carried that on with a big opening stint against Hull KR, which included a fine offload to set up Saints’ second try.

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Lees takes the confidence from that strong start into the heat of the battle on Saturday and the first knockout game of the season.

Saints boss Kristian Woolf has been happy with the way the former Rochdale Mayfield prop has progressed.

He said: “He is one of those players that gets better the more footy he plays – and that is exactly what he is going to do.

“He is playing 3 kilos heavier at the moment – and that is good weight as well.

“Matty is actually fitter, faster and stronger with that weight, plus it gives him a bit more body to work with as well.

“He is showing the benefit of that with some of his carries. He has always had a really good desire for contact and that hasn’t changed but what he can do after contact is a little bit better because he has that extra weight and extra strength.

“I expect a really big year from Matty.”

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The 23-year-old made his debut at the end of the 2017 campaign, and cemented his spot on the bench under Justin Holbrook’s tutelage in 2018 with his form earning a tour spot with the England Knights.

With his aggressive approach, leg speed and big engine Lees made a huge impact on the 2019 season before he suffered an horrific perforated bowel injury that ruled him out of the business end and took some toughness and resilience to come back from.

But come back he has – and Lees has shown those nuggety qualities that make him an asset, not simply with carries, offloads and some bone-crunching tackling but with some strong kick pressure too.

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Woolf added: “He has a terrific opportunity there as a starter.

“We lost Luke Thompson midway through last year and James Graham came in.

“Between the pair of them we shared that responsibility with a view of Matty taking on that role this year and the opportunity to be a starting front rower.

“He has made a good fist of that and I would expect him to get better each week.”