Starting With Dynamic Hooker, Matty Wilkinson, David Clegg Commences A Series Of Articles, In Which Up And Coming First Teamers Review Their Season
One only has to take a single glance at young Matty Wilkinson to see the difference which twelve months of intensive training has had on him.  No longer the slender young lad he was with the U19s, he has bulked up considerably into a far more physically robust individual, who is beginning to look more than capable of handling himself against players of greater maturity, physicality, and experience.
That is the visual evidence of the intensive hard work, which has been required of him during what Head Coach, Ian Watson, informed him was, for him,  to be a year of development.  An increase in weight was high on the list of priorities, and has been achieved by the combination of attention to diet, and work in the gym, particularly on the weights.
Despite the advance warning inherent in Ian’s remarks, Matty was quite staggered by the intensity of the pre-season training, to which he was subjected.
“That was the toughest thing I have ever done,” he ruefully recalls.  “It certainly took some time to get used to, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, and really learned a lot.”
Part of this was the big step up from training with, and playing against, lads of his own age, to having now to stand up to grown men, such as Craig Kopczak, charging at you.
“It has been a really steep learning curve, and has been the thing that has needed most work on,” is his judgement.   “I have found it totally different from the U19s.  I am getting better at defending against bigger men, but there is still room for improvement.”
A much wider array of bumps, bruises, aches, and pains was the inevitable consequence of it all.  Nevertheless, he has really liked being among the first team players.
“They are a really good set of lads, and they quickly made me feel included, and part of the squad,” he enthuses.
His reward for all his efforts came with selection in the squad for the first pre-season friendly at Rochdale, where he started on the bench before coming on for the final fifteen minutes, during which he succeeded in running in three tries.
“Playing in that match was a really good experience, and I enjoyed it,” he reflects. “It felt that I had slotted in well.  I’d been a bit nervous beforehand, but the players gave me plenty of support, and in fact playing with better players makes your own job easier, as you can just concentrate on your role.”
Taking into account his scoring feat, he understandably, felt that he had performed effectively in this, his first professional outing.  He was, consequently, selected a couple of weeks later for the away match at Featherstone, but unfortunately, this had to be called off because of the weather.
“The cancellation of the Featherstone game was a big disappointment,” he maintains.  “I was all geared up for it and it would have been a good chance to have shown what I can do.”
It was not until later in the season that he was to pull on a shirt again, but this time it was in the colours of Salford’s link club, North Wales Crusaders.  This was arranged, initially, to be for just one match, which, lo and behold, turned out to be, once again, against Rochdale Hornets, but then his involvement there continued in spasmodic stints, for the rest of the season.
Understandably, he found this a totally different environment from the one to which he had become accustomed, at Salford.  On the field, of course, the game was much slower, which he admits did not suit his own game particularly, as, at hooker, he thrives off quick play the balls.  Of the ten outings he had with the Crusaders, he remembers their fixture against York, which resulted in a draw as one which he especially enjoyed.  Taking account of the respective positions of the two clubs at the time, this was an extremely impressive result.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season came just ahead of the Red Devils’ second round Challenge Cup game, at Castleford.  It will be remembered that there had been something of a problem around the hooking role for the match, with both skipper, Tommy Lee, and Logan Tomkins, unavailable.
Understandably, Matty had raised his hopes that he might be fortunate enough to be selected, but things did not work out that way.  With the benefit of hindsight, Matty is mature enough to admit that it might well have been just a bit too early for him, though he maintains that he still would have had something to offer.
Now, just half way through a two year contract, Matty appreciates that he will not be here just for developmental purposes, next season.  Having had an absolutely outstanding season in the U19 during 2015, winning both Players’ Player, and Coaches’ Player of the Year, he is now eyeing the first team involvement that the likes of Jake Bibby, Ryan Lannon, and Josh Wood have had, and he wants the same for himself, in 2017.
“Next year is going to be a really big year for me.  Pre-season will be crucial in achieving this, so I intend to come back firing on all cylinders, as I need to be able to take my chance when it comes,” is his concluding assessment.
Next Time David Clegg Meets Up With Centre, Jake Bibby, In The First Of A Two Part Feature