Right now, the English rugby league system can lay claim to having produced a clutch of top quality back rowers with the likes of Elliott Whitehead and soon-to-be-teammate Canberra-bound John Bateman being the two highest profile. The pair are two of the very best in the world and, at one of Whitehead’s former clubs, another has just joined.
Catalans’ signing of Matt Whitley from Widnes Vikings went under the radar when the move was completed last week. It was a quiet announcement without much hoo-ha from the rugby league media but it could prove to be an inspired move by Steve McNamara’s revitalised Dragons – a club who seem to be as much of an attractive destination as any other in Super League right now.
Whitley has been one of the Vikings’ top performers in the last couple of years and, despite being part of a struggling team, the 22-year-old has been included in the England Knights squad currently preparing for their second test in Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, following the Vikings’ relegation rendering the Merseysider’s contract void, there was believed to be a queue of Super League clubs keen to sign one of the hottest prospects in English rugby league and, with St Helens and Warrington Wolves both linked with a move for Whitley, it was something of a coup for Catalans to sign him.
A man who seems set for a long career at the top, Whitley reached a century of appearances for the Vikings after making his Super League debut in 2015. He, therefore, has certainly established himself as a strong player in the top tier and will be hoping to take his game to the next level in France where, as part of a stronger team, he will be able to showcase his talents further. His new head coach, former England boss McNamara, remarked as much to the media following his signing: “Matt is an exciting addition to our squad. He is young, ambitious and a player that is prepared to work hard to achieve success.”
Indeed, he will be following Whitehead in moving to the Dragons from his boyhood club, the current England international having moved to the club from Bradford back in 2013. Thereafter, he moved on to NRL’s Canberra and has established himself as a first-team pick for the Raiders. Right now, it seems that Whitley has the potential to follow in those footsteps and, with many years ahead of him, he should be able to cement an England position for the future as well as playing at the very top level.