Hull Pirates centre Matty Davies back in the game at Leeds Knights with high aims for NIHL National season

CENTRE Matty Davies has had no problem keeping busy during the past 18 months or so - but one thing he has not been able to replicate during the pandemic is that fierce, competitive edge.

Matthew Davies, in action for Hull Pirates against Leeds Chiefs at Elland Road in February 2020. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The withdrawal of Davies’s hometown club Hull Pirates from the NIHL National league for the forthcoming season two weeks ago has seen Leeds Knights quickly nip in and secure the services of the former GB international.

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Davies is the first Hull player to have officially secured himself game time for the 2021-22 campaign, a development which delights both player and club.

Matty Davies, in action for Hull Stingrays during the 2013-14 EIHL season. Picture courtesy of Arthur Foster.

“I’m really excited,” admitted the 31-year-old. “I have missed the competitive side of things that I always got from hockey - everyone says that once they stop playing.

“I can’t lose, I’ve got that thing in me where I just hate losing - I’m just an angry little man, I guess - but it’s just how I am and I have missed that in my life.

“So I’m really excited to get back playing again.”

In Davies, the Knights are gaining one of the top players in the UK game’s second tier.

FAMILIAR FACE: Sam Zajac was part of the same Telford Tigers' roster as Matty Davies when they won the EPL regular season league title in 2017. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

With more than 300 Elite League appearances to his name - the majority coming for Hull Stingrays - Davies will be the kind of veteran presence, along with defenceman Sam Zajac, that Knights’ head coach Dave Whistle is likely to lean on heavily during his first season back in the UK.

Davies is also a winner, helping Telford Tigers lift the EPL regular season title in its final year of existence before returning to Hull where, in 2018-19 he played a pivotal role in Jason Hewitt’s team winning a memorable treble.

The NIHL National league then arrived, with the intent of helping the UK game’s second level return to something resembling the standard and quality seen in the EPL before its demise in 2017.

Davies missed the first 10 weeks of the season with a knee injury but, once he returned, he quickly showed the Pirates what they had been missing, going on to register a 52-point haul - including 18 goals - from just 23 games.

Matty Davies is pleased to be playing for team owner Steve Nell again, having played for the Leeds Knights owner for his other club, Swindon Wildcats, between 2007-09. Picture: Steve Riding.

It was a season, however, that was prevented from drawing to its natural conclusion when the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown in March, with all sport eventually following suit.

The last time Davies stepped out on the ice was at Elland Road on Friday, March 13 when he contributed three assists in an entertaining 9-6 win for the Pirates against Leeds Chiefs.

And it is on the same pad that he will return to action for the first time since when the Knights host Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday, September 10 in a pre-season exhibition game.

In the intervening period, Davies has kept himself busy opening and running a gym in Hull, while also adapting to fatherhood now that he has a one-year-old son.

But while the skates have been in cold storage for longer than ever before in his 16-year senior career, he is confident it won’t take him long to get back up to speed once the Knights start their on-ice preparations next week at Elland Road.

Already pumped about playing for a coach with the kind of pedigree that Whistle boasts, Davies is also delighted to be back among some familiar faces, both on and off the ice.

Knights’ goalie Sam Gospel and defenceman Sam Zajac were both on the roster alongside Davies when Telford won the EPL four years ago, while a couple of years at Swindon Wildcats in the early part of his career clearly made a lasting impression on the Yorkshireman, who is pleased to be working again for Steve Nell, now also owner of Leeds.

“I can’t say anything else about Steve other than he is probably the best owner I’ve ever played for,” said Davies.

“In Swindon, in terms of the way he runs a club, I’ve never seen anything like it.

“He’s on everything, he leaves no stone unturned and he will make Leeds an absolute hotbed, I guarantee.

“Whether I’m here for a year or however long, I will do nothing but my best to bring success to this team because Leeds has got a serious chance of being one of the biggest teams around. I really believe we can be sucessful this season.

“Sammy (Zajac), Sam Gospel and me, we’ve all played together in Telford before and won - we won the EPL back when it was a proper league when there were five imports and everything - and I’m so excited to play with both of them again.”