St Helens’ Matty Lees keen to seize Challenge Cup final chance after 2019 agony
St Helens forward Matty Lees was in agony when he watched the 2019 Challenge Cup final and the result was only partly to blame for his discomfort.
Lees was in the early stages of recovery from a ruptured bowel, a freak injury sustained in a Super League match at Leeds nine days earlier which not only ruled him out of the Wembley clash with Warrington but the end-of-season Great Britain tour.
Memories of those dark days came flooding back this week as the 23-year-old waited to discover if he was going to get the nod from coach Kristian Woolf to play in Saturday’s final against Castleford.
His prospects were hit by a broken ankle, ironically sustained against Leeds in Saints’ opening-round cup tie in April, which set him on a race against time to be fit for Wembley.
Initially given a four-month recovery period, Lees’ rehab went well and he made his comeback as a substitute at Wakefield last Friday.
“My body was a little bit sore but that was to be expected but my ankle pulled through pretty good,” Lees said.
“The specialist gave me a four-month return to play at first and straight away I made sure I didn’t get it infected because I couldn’t afford to get any more weeks added on.”
Recovering from a broken ankle was always going to be something of a cake walk compared to the injury he suffered two years ago in a routine tackle by Leeds second-rower Brett Ferres.
“When I did my ankle, I thought back to that and knew that, if I could get through that, this was nothing really,” Lees said.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any worse really. I got tackled in the side of my stomach. Straight away it took the wind from me and I knew something wasn’t quite right.
“When I walked off, I expected it to be a rib injury or my abs but then I started feeling really unwell and it came in waves.
“The doctor decided to call an ambulance and I was in hospital in Leeds for a week.
“I managed to get out to watch the final at home with my parents and my girlfriend and a couple of friends came round to see how I was but I wasn’t in the best of states.
“I watched the final and then on the Sunday night I ended up having an adhesion, which is very common when you’ve had stomach surgery.
“I went into my local hospital in Oldham for another week when I couldn’t eat or drink until it had settled down.
“I couldn’t do anything for three months, it was a long three months.”
Lees recovered in time to play a key role in Saints’ successful 2020 campaign, helping them to victory in November’s Grand Final, and is now poised to finally get the chance to run out at Wembley.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “It’s been tough but it’s made me the player I am today. That’s the way I look at it.
“I’ve never been to Wembley so at least I’ll get to see it this time and to play would mean everything to me.
“You don’t really appreciate it until it gets taken away from you. Watching the lads play in 2019, it was heartbreaking that we lost but it was even more frustrating that I couldn’t do anything to try and help.
“You think next year we’ll get back in the final but rugby league doesn’t work like that and we were knocked out in the first round.
“You don’t get many chances to go there. We could never make the final again after this so that’s why I’ve got to try and take it while it’s here.”
Saints assistant coach Paul Wellens said: “Kristian has not finalised his 17 but we were really pleased with Matty last week, the way he came back having not played for a while.
“I’m sure sure Kristian will give it some deep thought but certainly Matty will come into reckoning.”