MATT Whitley may have only just stopped smiling after marking his debut for his hometown Saints with a brace of tries and in all-round accomplished performance.

One of a trio of new recruits England Knights second row Whitley’s career has come full circle after initially being rejected by Saints as a junior in the club’s scholarship programme.

Whitley was given the task of leading off the team song after the game – something he has probably waited years to do.


And coach Paul Wellens believes that the way Whitley dealt with that early disappointment is not simply a credit to the player, but a lesson to all those who face a similar challenge early on in their careers.

Wellens said: “Matt is an example of when things don't quite go as well as you'd like as a young player that there's other avenues to go down if you want to work your way back.

“Matty going off to Widnes and then finding himself in the first team there and then getting an opportunity to go to Catalans just shows that if you keep your head down and keep working hard and you believe in yourself and potentially that could open up an avenue.

“Matty has always had an ambition to play for Saints at some point in his career.

“I think it showed what it meant to him to put on a Saints jersey tonight.

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“We're delighted that our paths have crossed again and on that evidence you see that he's going to be an effective player for us.”

In the absence of Joe Batchelor, who is out for two-three weeks with a collarbone injury, Whitley partnered Curtis Sironen in the second row.

And he grabbed his opportunity well, with his trademark run near the line yielding two tries.

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Wellens added: “It is what I love about players who play to their strengths. He’s not what you would call the biggest back rower, but I think sometimes – and it showed tonight - that works to his advantage.

“He has little subtle changes of his lines late at the defensive line which trouble teams.

And he got a couple of tries off the back of it tonight.

“He got one in the pre-season trial doing the same thing.

“So it's kind of a play he has run for a good number of years and has some success with it with Catalans as well.

“So as long as he keeps getting joy with that type of stuff, we'll be happy.”

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The West Stand serenaded him as he did the lap of honour after the 40-4 victory over London Broncos – and he certainly left with a smile on his face.

“That will mean a lot to him - I know it will. Obviously, growing up being a Saints fan - he's pulled on jersey tonight for his debut and already they are singing his name on the terraces.

“That’s every Saints fan’s dream so I'm delighted for him. He's shown over the last three years he’s a high-quality player, who understands Super League and has shown he’s going to be a real asset to us through the course of the year.”