St Helens backrow forward Joe Batchelor has shot to prominence this year in his third season since joining the Super League Champions from York City Knights at the start of the 2019 season.
A regular selection this season, Batchelor took the opportunities offered to him to stand in for injured team-mates such as Morgan Knowles and James Bentley, and he was rewarded with a starting berth for St Helens in the Betfred Challenge Cup Final.
Originally having signed on a three-year contract that expires at the end of this season, there appears to be little doubt that Batchelor will be staying at the Totally Wicked Stadium next season.
“Throughout my time here, I’ve just wanted to play well for St Helens,” Batchelor says.
“I knew I’d have to work hard and await my time when I joined the club. There have always been really good players in front of me, but the opportunity came from James Bentley getting injured. I had to play out of position to prove to Kristian (Woolf) that I was ready to play.
“As far as my contract is concerned, it’s just in the process of being settled. I certainly don’t want to play anywhere else.
“The reason I chose to come to St Helens was because they were the best team in the country, and I knew the coaches here would have a massive impact on my development.”
When asked how his move to St Helens from York came about, Batchelor reveals: “There was a bit of interest from Hull KR initially, and that really excited me. But then my agent rang me and asked me which club I’d sign for it I got the choice of any club in Super League. I told him that would be St Helens, but that it wasn’t going to happen.
“He told me not to be so hasty, and soon after that I found myself meeting (Saints CEO) Mike Rush and Justin Holbrook.
“I was star struck at the thought of joining Saints, and at my first training session Jonny Lomax and James Roby introduced themselves to me and I could hardly believe they were being so nice to me as a newcomer.”
“Two years later, Batchelor found himself walking out of the tunnel at Wembley, as St Helens faced Castleford in the Challenge Cup Final this year.
“There are not many kids who love sport who don’t dream of playing at Wembley. It’s the national stadium and although at the time the crowd was limited, it was still the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of.”
The chances are that at Wigan this Friday Batchelor will play in front of the second biggest crowd of his career, when the two old derby rivals clash for the second time this season.
Saints won the first game 24-6 in front of a restricted crowd of just 4,000 Saints supporters at the Totally Wicked Stadium in early July. That was a very different atmosphere when compared to a normal Saints-Wigan derby, but it should be near to normal when the two clash this Friday night.
“It should be and I can’t wait for the game,” says Batchelor.
“I imagine the tickets are selling well. Most of the St Helens and Wigan fans have been looking forward to this for 18 months and it will be great to get people back into the habit of coming to matches.
“Both of us will be going into the game on the back of defeats, and we both probably think that there’s no better team to play against after a loss. It should make for an extra ingredient in a Wigan-Saints game.
“We both need to win because Super League is definitely getting more and more competitive. Other clubs want to get better and achieve what Saints, Wigan and Leeds have done over. This year there are two or three other teams with genuine chances of winning the competition. They are attracting players from other clubs and the NRL of a high standard, which means that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.”
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