ST Helens forward Matty Lees says he’s desperate to collect some silverware of his own in 2020 after a horrific bowel injury ruled him out of Saints’ success last season.
The 21-year-old tearaway, who was the Super League Young Player of the Year in 2019, returned to the Super League arena for the first time since he suffered the blow against Leeds last August, coming off the bench in the 24th minute of St Helens’ 48-8 spanking of Salford on Friday.
While his team-mates feasted on accolades last season, luck-starved Lees was recovering from a perforated bowel that cruelly ended his 2019 campaign one week before Saints’ trip to the Challenge Cup Final.
“It makes you more hungry, especially watching the boys winning the Grand Final,” Lees told League Express.
“It’s been six months. Obviously I missed out on Wembley last year, so it’s good to finally get back again.
“My goal is just getting fit and working hard on what I need to improve on.”
Lees was injured in an innocuous tackle at Headingley last season, but the rupture was so serious that doctors compared him to a car-crash victim.
“The surgeon said that the only time they see injuries like that was through a car crash,” former coach Justin Holbrook said last August.
“They literally had to take it all out (the intestines) and find out where the leak was.”
Lees spent more than a week in hospital and then had months waiting for the wound to heal. And although the St Helens enforcer admits the injury played on his mind when he first returned to the field in Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s pre-season testimonial match, he felt more confident in round one against Salford.
“It got an infection and I had to sort that out, and it took four or five months to heal. It’s been tough, but I’ve got through it,” Lees says.
“Last week in the friendly, it’s always on your mind in your first game back. But today I felt a lot better and I wasn’t really thinking about it as much. You’ve just got to get on with it. That’s just what happens, isn’t it.”
New Saints coach Kristian Woolf brought Lees on for Alex Walmsley in the 24th minute, and kept him out there until Walmsley returned in the 64th minute, with Saints stretching their lead from 12-2 to 30-8 during Lees’ solid stint.
“It felt good… I got to about 40 minutes,” Lees says.
“I just needed to get some minutes in. That was Kristian’s plan tonight to get me ready for next week.”
The Saints faithful gave the 21-year-old a warm reception when he entered the fray in the first half, but saved their biggest roar for the 53rd minute, when Lees set his sights on Salford fullback Niall Evalds under a high ball and poleaxed him with a perfectly timed bell-ringer.
“I’m just trying to bring what I’m good at,” Lees says.
“That’s my game and that’s what I think I’m good at. I just want to keep that going.”