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'I am good enough' - St Helens star opens up on Super League rise amid stellar start to the season

James Bell is the first to admit he rode his luck to reach the top of the rugby league world, and that makes the in-form St Helens forward all the more determined to make the most of the spotlight.

The 29-year-old New Zealander has been one of the stand-out performers in the first month of the new Betfred Super League season, emerging off the bench to help wrestle games against the likes of Leigh and Leeds back in Saints’ favour.

Bell’s battle to become an intregral part of Paul Wellens’ new-look Saints squad is the latest triumph on an improbable career path, which began when he seized an unlikely chance with his beloved Auckland Warriors a decade ago.

“I remember sitting on the sidelines at a Warriors game telling my dad that one day that’s what I want to do, but the journey wasn’t easy and it only happened by luck and coincidence,” Bell told the PA news agency.

“I went to watch my mate play in a trial for the junior Warriors but the team they were playing didn’t have enough numbers so they went round the pitch asking for anyone who had their boots and was under the age of 20.

“I was 19 years old and I’d never even made a representative team in my life. Initially I said no, but my friend told me to jump on the field and I scored a couple of tries and had the best game of my career.

“At the end of the game, New Zealand legend Stacey Jones came up to me and said ‘what’s your name and where the hell have you been this whole time?’ I went from nothing to training with the Warriors the next Monday.”

Bell, the fourth oldest of six brothers and one sister who grew up in the Auckland suburb of Papakura – “probably the biggest games I’ve played were in my back yard against my brothers” – went on to make his NRL debut for the Warriors in 2017.

But while his friend at the trial match, Jazz Tevaga, went on make over 100 appearances for the club, Bell was deemed surplus to requirements after just two games, and when his contract expired in 2019 he looked to Europe for the chance to extend his career.

A Scotland international by virtue of his paternal grandfather, Bell first landed at Toulouse after impressing head coach Sylvain Houles in a 2018 international, then moved on to make his Super League debut with Leigh in 2021.

“When I was coming off my contract with the Warriors I was almost begging them to find me something,” added Bell. “There have been a lot of stages in my career where I’ve felt at a standstill with no opportunity.

“But I always knew I loved the game and that I wanted to stick around and keep chipping away and finding opportunities to test my limits. So much of it has been down to chance, that being where I am today feels a bit surreal.”

Bell moved on to Saints later in 2021, initially struggling to force his way into a competitive first-team structure.

But Bell’s persistence, allied with what Wellens calls his “infectious” enthusiasm for the game, saw his opportunities increase, culminating in being part of Saints’ heroic 2023 World Club Challenge win over NRL champions Penrith.

“I’ve had the best pre-season since I came to the club and I think that’s stood me in good stead,” said Bell, who will next feature in Saints’ return trip to Headingley on Friday in the last 16 of the Betfred Challenge Cup.

“I’ve come into an environment where I’m feeling valued, and I think I’ve probably proven to myself now that I am good enough to be here and I do deserve it. It’s given me a vision of where I want to go, and I won’t need to be so reliant on luck.”

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