NEW Saints recruit James Bell’s number-one target is forcing his way into the champions’ matchday 17 – but he knows the competition for jerseys will be ferocious given the talent at Kristian Woolf’s disposal.

Although the hat-trick winning squad has seen some departures, the arrival of Bell, Konrad Hurrell, Will Hopoate, Joey Lussick and Curtis Sironen makes it a formidable 2022 roster.

The 27-year-old Scottish international back row, who has joined from relegated Leigh Centurions on a two-year-deal, will be keen to impress when he joins the newbies in the first wave of players back in pre-season training later this month.

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Excited about the move ever since the interest was first floated to his agent, that feeling did not diminished as he watched on to see Saints take out the three-peat.

Impressive in the first of two games for the Centurions against Saints, Bell took that up a notch in the second outing a few weeks after he signed on at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

It was certainly a way of marking cards, despite being on the losing side with a relegated team that struggled through the year.

Bell explained: “Saints’ interest in me came in mid-season. I played pretty decent in that first game against them and four or five weeks after that when my manager said there’s a little bit of interest there.”

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And he was glad that it came off, despite enjoying his time at Leigh Sports Village most pros would jump at this opportunity to fight for a spot with the benchmark taken up a notch.

“There is going to be healthy competition for sure with the new recruits coming into what is already a quality bunch,” he said.

“It is probably going to come down to who is willing to work the hardest. That is a good thing for the club.

“Saints have a great pack there so for me it is about trying to earn a spot on that bench and do what is best for the team.

“Position wise I am really not sure, but I have to put my best foot forward in pre-season, come in fit and show the coaching staff what I bring to the table.”

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Bell brings versatility having played across a number of roles, jumping in at dummy half, in the halves, a bit of centre and back row the previous years, but admits to feeling most at home in the middle of the park. He is happy to fit in where he can in a side that he knows has been Super League’s number one for three years for a reason.

“It was no surprise how well they have done and how well they are going.

“Coming over to England they were the benchmark straight away – even when I was at Leigh we knew we were going to get up for those games against St Helens because they are the best and you want to put up a good performance there.

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“There are no surprises – you know they are going to do well and the culture is there.

“For me, knowing that I was going to be here next season as really exciting to be a part of that,” he said.

“There were initial discussions with my manager and then when I spoke with Woolfy it re-assured me that Saints was the best club for me.

“When I played for Leigh at Saints it was like we were playing the crowd as well. You have to beat the thousands roaring, not just the 17 in the red vee.”

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Bell is hoping to bond with his new teammates and admits that sometimes it does help, like in this case, when a group of players and their families arrive simultaneously.

“When I look at the new signing and a few of the boys have families, I have a little family as well.

“It will be cool for the partners to get together and the kids to run around and it is exciting in that respect.

“In terms of footy there will be some experienced boys coming over and I can’t wait to play and learn from some real quality players,” he said.

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The 2022 Super League will see a new French team on the fixture list, but as an old boy of the club Bell welcomes Toulouse Olympique’s elevation having enjoyed spending 2019-20 there.

“I am really happy to see Toulouse come up.

“Myself and Sylvain (Houles) the coach had a really good relationship and I left Toulouse on really good terms.

“It is a really great club who look after their players and so they are deserving of this opportunity, because they have worked so hard and so I am really excited for them and they are going to do really well,” he said.

With a couple of ex-Saints on the Toulouse roster, that could add even more intrigue to that fixture.

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But Bell’s objectives for the year are not purely on the domestic front - having played loose forward in last month’s game against Jamaica, he is keen to make sure he earns selection for the delayed World Cup in the Autumn.

He is not putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

He said: “I have set a few goals for myself this year, try to get into the Saints 17 is the first goal, the second is World Cup and so hopefully I can play some good footy and get selected for team.

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“Any opportunity I get to pull on the Scotland shirt I will jump to. If it was not for Scotland getting me involved in the World Cup and the test matches, I probably would not have qualified to be here I always try to repay them.

“I qualify through my ‘Pop’, my granddad was born in Aberdeen and he came over to New Zealand as a young fella and met my nan and the rest is history. He lived out the rest of his years in New Zealand.”

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