For any young player, to be the top try scorer for your club and then one of the league’s you play in is a tremendous feat, but to do that all from the front row of the scrum, at hooker, Sedgley Park’s Jonny Matthews has accomplished an incredible feat.
Matthews, a 21-year-old hooker born in Merseyside, is enjoying a phenomenally good season for Sedgley Park in National 2 North this year.
In his first season for the club Jonny has led the Tigers from the front, demonstrating a game well above his years, which combines pace, power and skill, in a hugely effective formula.
Not only has the front rower executed his role at the set-piece and the breakdown, Matthews has a try tally well into double figures to his name this season, leading the club through a fruitful season in National 2.
Rightfully so, Jonny’s performances have not gone unnoticed by higher powers, as he has already been offered a contract for next season with Championship club Rotherham Titans, who, with just a game left in the season, are still knocking on the door of the Premiership, in fourth place looking set for a playoff spot.
Sedgley Park currently sit fourth in the table, but are a good distance away from leaders Macclesfield, second place Stourbridge and third place Darlington Mowden Park, after a spell of recent disappointing results.
Talking Rugby Union’s Editor Austin Halewood caught up with the man himself and, firstly, asked Jonny how he felt his own season was going:
“It’s been a great season – one that has gone really well for me,” Jonny began. “Obviously I’m really enjoying my rugby here at Sedgley – I think we’ve got a good group of lads and coaches. Everyone is working really hard and trying to achieve the same thing really.
“I’ve only been at the club since the start of the season, but have really enjoyed my rugby there.
“Last year I was in Leeds’ Academy and playing for Otley alongside that and then Lancashire seniors at the end of the season. From there I got asked to join Sedge and, so, I thought I would.”
As mentioned, the club itself has enjoyed a successful season in National 2 North, but have unfortunately fallen away from the league’s top three teams in the second half of the season.
“We’ve dropped off the pace in the past few weeks,” Jonny conceded. “We lost three or four games on the bounce and that really did a lot of damage to us.
“I think if we had won those games we would have still been right up there at the end of the season and in contention for a promotion spot. However, we lost to both Stourbridge and Macclesfield which both pushed the pair of them further away from us.
“In a lot of those games we just found that we didn’t really turn up. So we know the results are off our own back but at the same time we know that we’re not a bad side, just because we’ve lost a couple of games, so we just are now making sure we get everything we can from the final few weeks of the season and then have fun whilst we’re doing it.”
Alongside the club’s successful season, though, Jonny has enjoyed a tremendous season of his own with a plethora of tries to his name. In addition to this, we must remind ourselves that jonny has scored all of these from the front row of the scrum – an incredible feat.
“Yeah, this season’s been alright,” the hooker joked. “I’ve been lucky with a few tries off the back of mauls and stuff but, yeah, they’ve all added up I suppose.
“It’s definitely been one of the best and most enjoyable season’s I’ve had to date. I scored a similar amount for Otley last year, but I’m just hoping to push on and try and get that figure into the twenties I suppose.”
After such a prolific season, it came to no surprise that the young hooker will move on to pastures new next season in the Championship – possibly even the Premiership – with Yorkshire side Rotherham Titans.
“I’ll be very sad to leave Sedgley,” Jonny admitted, “but the chance to play for such a good side like Rotherham was just too good to miss.
“The opportunity came about after, well, impressing this season and then last season, which, from then I got picked for the England Counties side – which was a really big thing for me; especially for someone in our league – the majority of players are usually picked from National 1, so I was really pleased with that.
“From there I was just approached by the guys at Rotherham and took the opportunity straight away – it’s something I know I’ll really enjoy doing.
“I can’t wait for the challenge that it will bring when I’m there – to play full-time professional rugby will be brilliant – it’s why we do it I suppose.”
With Rotherham enjoying such a fruitful season in the second tier of English rugby, with a round of playoffs ahead, Jonny’s next season could be beyond his wildest expectations if the Yorkshire side were to cause an upset to form and make their way into the Premiership.
“If they were to go up into the Prem I would still be signed as a player, no matter what league they’re in – which is fantastic, yeah. Hopefully they can do well at the end of the season and see that side go up!
But no matter whether it is Championship or Premiership rugby that Jonny is going to play in next year, he knows that the challenge will be great and a real step-up from anything he has experienced before.
“I know the step-up is going to be massive – it’s going to be a real eye-opener. Hopefully, though, during pre-season training in the six to eight weeks I should be able to become accustomed to it and learn the ropes.
“But in my opinion I believe if I wasn’t good enough then I wouldn’t be there.”
However, aside from the physicality and step-up of the league itself, Jonny finds himself against stiff competition within the Rotherham ranks.
The Yorkshire side’s current hooker, Tom Cruse, has enjoyed a fantastic season of his own as an already established performer on the Championship stage. Also just a young man himself, Cruse was highlighted at the start of the season by the team at talking Rugby Union as one to watch out for in the future from our ‘Emerging Talent’ section. Read our article on Tom here.
“I know Tom, who is already there, will be their number one hooker next year,” Jonny admitted, “so I’m just going to go in and try and prove what I can do. Then when I get the opportunity I just want to take it with everything that I’ve got.”
Finally, Jonny was keen to get on record his thanks to Sedgley as a club for all of their help and success this season.
“I’ll be really sad to see the back of Sedgley,” Matthews began, “I’ve loved my time there and it was really hard to tell them that I was leaving, because like I’ve said I really enjoyed it. I’ve made some really great friends there and I certainly will be going to watch them next year.
“Sedgley is always going to be a club that I’ll be keeping a close-eye on, purely because of the way that they have treated me and because of how much I enjoyed my time there.”