Academy graduates join First Team

Five members of the Saints Academy 2023 Champion team have signed full-time contracts for the first time and will join the Saints’ First Team squad ahead of the 2024 season!

Leon Cowen, Will Roberts, Dayon Sambou, Noah Stephens, and Jonny Vaughan become the Club’s latest Academy graduates to join the Saints’ senior squad, following in the footsteps of established home-grown Saints talent such as; Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, and Jack Welsby to name just a few.

The addition of our five Academy Champion Saints brings the total number of home-grown players in our First Team squad for 2024 to an incredible eighteen men.

Head Coach Paul Wellens commented on the news of our five Academy graduates taking their next steps in their Saints journey, saying: “We pride ourselves at St.Helens on developing young home-grown talent, and our pathway is as strong as ever, evidenced by our Under 18s Academy becoming Champions.

“Full credit to Derek Traynor and all our youth coaches and staff on that remarkable achievement this year, and for making our youngsters not only better players but better people too. Leon, Will, Dayon, Noah, and Jonny have all been strong in our Academy, and we are looking to keep on developing them as players and people.

“All of them have the potential to be strong players and will be able to learn alongside senior men in our ranks too. While we congratulate them on taking this step, this is a beginning, this is a new challenge for them and the hard work starts now.”

The Saints’ Academy Head Coach Derek Traynor added: “All five of these young men have worked exceptionally hard to become Academy Champions, and have earned the right to become members of the First Team too. I’m more than sure they will bring a lot to the group and be strong additions to Paul Wellens’ squad for 2024 and beyond.”

Find out a little more about our young Saints below…


  • Age: 19
  • Community Club: Crosfields ARLFC
  • Position: Loose forward/prop
  • Two-year contract until the end of 2025

Joining the Saints back in April 2022 on an initial trial with the Under 18s, in his own words, Leon wanted to put his head down and get to work, with a strong desire to earn a shot at playing for the team as a late recruit.

Opportunities came for him and he featured in an Academy semi-final in his first year and earned the right to be a bigger part of the team in 2023 after impressing, so much so that he was named Academy captain too, and featured for Derek Hardman’s Reserves during the year as well.

Leon also played for the England Academy side that was victorious over France during the summer. He finished the year by leading the Saints out as skipper in the Academy Grand Final and raised the trophy high after securing the all-important win.


  • Age: 18
  • Community Clubs: Leigh Miners Rangers & Ryland Sharks
  • Position: Scrum half
  • One-year contract with another year option in the Club’s favour

Will joined the Red V at the age of fourteen with the Club’s Scholarship programme from community side Ryland Sharks. After two years in the Under 16s he progressed into our Under 18s where he has been a very strong performer, and he has shown his talent at the Reserves level too.

He started the 2023 season in scintillating fashion for the Academy, scoring eleven tries in six appearances, and was named in the opening two Lancashire Origin squads this year. Such good form caught the eye of Saints’ dual-registration partners Swinton Lions, who handed Will his professional debut in June against Batley Bulldogs.

Unfortunately, an injury cut Will’s season short and we look forward to seeing him return to the field.


  • Age: 18
  • Community Clubs: Woolston Rovers & Ryland Sharks
  • Position: Centre/winger
  • Two-year contract until the end of 2025

The younger brother of former Saint Jumah Sambou, Dayon’s journey with St.Helens began at the age of fourteen with our Under 16s Scholarship programme where he developed for the first two years before joining the Academy.

As a strong and speedy outside back, Dayon has made the centre spot his own in the last two years, especially in 2023; getting named in both the Lancashire and England Academy squads. Taking a further step up, he has also played for our Reserves side during the last two seasons.

Dayon shined brightly in the Red V’s run to the Academy Championship title, with some incredibly skilful assists to his outside winger in both the Semi and Grand Final fixtures.


  • Age: 18
  • Community Club: Pilkington Recs ARLFC
  • Position: Prop
  • Two-year contract until the end of 2025 with a third-year option

As confirmed in September, towering prop forward Noah put pen to paper to join the First Team for 2024.

Noah’s time with the Club began at the age of 15 with our Under 16s setup, before he graduated up into the Academy. In the Under 18s Noah has displayed bursting breaks and bulldozing runs, scoring six tries in the 2023 title-winning campaign, and being selected for the Lancashire Academy Origin side too.

With the likes of Matty Lees and Morgan Knowles to train and play alongside in the senior squad, it’s an exciting prospect for the former Pilkington Recs junior.


  • Age: 18
  • Community Club: Blackbrook ARLFC
  • Position: Back-row/centre
  • Two-year contract until the end of 2025

A lifelong fan of St.Helens, Jonny joined the Club at the age of fourteen as a Scholarship player with an ambition to go on to become a senior First Team player. After two strong seasons in the Club’s Academy system, with matches played in the Reserves too, he has now achieved that goal.

In Derek Traynor’s Under 18s side, Jonny has been highly consistent in 2023, featuring in every match in the Championship winning campaign. In the Semi-Final victory over Hull FC, he scored a vitally important hat-trick to book the Saints’ spot in the Grand Final.

Representative honours have come for Jonny too, firstly being selected and named captain for the Lancashire squad that took on Yorkshire in the county Origin series. Paul Anderson then named Vaughan as England Academy captain for the mid-season match against France.

Congratulations to our Saints Academy graduates, we look forward to seeing your development!


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