Just eight months ago, Matt Whitley was an unknown quantity in Super League.
With just a handful of first-grade games to his name, the 20-year-old was preparing for a season of hard work away from the Super League scene as his progression under Denis Betts continued.
However, what started as a steady rise up the Widnes ranks eventually culminated in Whitley becoming an integral part of Widnes’ most successful side in 14 years, as the Vikings ended the year in seventh place.
Whitley, highly-rated by Betts for his strong work-ethic, has ultimately been recognised for his breakout year, having been shortlisted for Super League’s young player of the season award alongside Wakefield’s Tom Johnstone and Wigan’s Ryan Sutton.
Speaking about his impressive year, Whitley admitted that he was still in awe of his teammates at the start of the season.
“It’s quite surreal.
“With players like Kevin Brown, there are some internationals in there, so to be on the same team as them has been a privilege for me. I was a bit starstruck at first to be honest, but I knew I couldn’t take my eye off the ball and had to keep working hard on my own game, and hopefully I’ve done that.
“This year has definitely gone past my expectations. I never thought I would play as many games as I have done this year. I thought that I would get a few games, but not this many.
“I wanted to be improving in training and pushing for a place in the team, but I think I’ve only missed three games all season, which is good really. I just hope to be pushing for a spot in the team week in week out moving forward.”
Whitley added: “It’s really nice to be nominated for all the hard work and effort that I have put in to be recognised.
“Then again, I don’t think I would have been anywhere close if it wasn’t for the boys that I have been playing around week in, week out. They’ve been great and it’s been proven by our season.”
An extensive interview with Whitley talking about the lack of opportunities for young players in England and reserve grade is inside the new League Express.