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St Helens confirm star signing as Will Hopoate replacement

NRL star Waqa Blake rounded out St Helens squad

St Helens have confirmed the signing of Fijian international centre Waqa Blake following his release from Parramatta Eels.

The Saints were expected to recruit a centre for the 2024 season having lost Will Hopoate and left his old number three shirt vacant, promising to search domestically and overseas for the Tongan’s replacement.

It was then reported earlier this week by League Scene Pod initially that Blake would be heading to Super League to join St Helens, something that the club have now confirmed today.

Paul Wellens’ side have signed Blake on a one-year-deal and he will take on the vacant number three shirt implying he could line up as one of the club’s starting centres.

During his time in the NRL he tallied 62 tries across his 165 appearances, representing both Penrith and Parramatta across his nine year spell in the league. He has also picked up international caps for Fiji whom he starred for during the 2023 Pacific Championships.

Saints confirmed the signing via a statement released on their club website reading: “St.Helens R.F.C. are delighted to welcome Fijian international centre Waqa Blake on a one-year deal for the 2024 season!

“The Club has been patiently working on recruiting a player to finalise the 2024 squad ahead of the new Betfred Super League season, with the number #3 shirt previously left vacant and the Club is thrilled to have Waqa Blake take that jersey and to come and join the Red V.

“The quick, six foot three inches tall, outside back has 165 NRL games to his name and has scored 62 tries in the competition. Blake has spent the last four and a half seasons with the Parramatta Eels and was a key member of their squad that reached the 2022 Grand Final.

“Blake has also played for his native country Fiji on five occasions, most recently in the 2023 Pacific Championships where he scored three times.”

Blake himself spoke to the club website stating: “I can’t wait! I was excited to get over as soon as Paul [Wellens] and Mike [Rush] gave me a ring to say it was done, especially to a great club like St.Helens. I’m looking forward to switching from the heat to the cold!

“To come to a club like St.Helens where they’ve always been in the top four or top two, and then such a big thing winning four-in-a-row, I’m hoping I can fit in, and we can win another one. Just looking at all the players that they have there, all the strike, I’m keen to get to work.”

The acquisition of Blake is an exciting one for both the Club and the competition of Betfred Super League, and the Lautoka-born player has heard all about rugby league in the northern hemisphere by a former Saint.

“I think it’s getting better [Super League], I saw St.Helens beat Penrith last year in the World Club Challenge, no one would have thought it. The quality of football is getting better and you can see that in the England side that played Tonga.

“I’ve played with Kevin Naiqama and he killed it at Saints, and I watched the Grand Final where he won Man of the Match. He told me a lot about Super League when we were in Fiji camp, how special it is over there, and that Saints are a great bunch of boys, so I’m looking forward to it.”

On the prospect of replacing someone as revered in the game as Will Hopoate, Blake said: “We all know the quality of a player like Hopoate [Will] and it’s very special to me and to be able to get that jersey. I want to go out there, put my head down, and work hard. Hopefully, I can also come away with the shirt at the end of the year, but first things first, I’m just excited to get over there and start working.

“I’m hoping to come over and do you guys all proud and I’m looking forward to seeing you all! I can’t wait to hear all the cheers, and we will be trying to go all the way this year.”

Head coach Paul Wellens added: “We have been on the lookout for some time now and we had other bits around the salary cap that we needed to sort; in retaining our own players which is always important. But this has also been at the forefront of our minds, and we are so pleased to bring in a player of Waqa’s quality into the squad.

“He is making a big commitment in coming over to the other side of the world and we’re confident he will settle in well and like it over here. We have great success in terms of our overseas players doing that and going out on the field to perform well. From our end, he’s going to come highly motivated and come to prove a point which will only help him and his performances, as well as our group.”

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