FULL back Paul Wellens was the Saints defensive rock for the best part of 17 or so Super League seasons after first nudging his way into Shaun McRae’s team in 1998.
Wellens became a regular the following year under Ellery Hanley, playing in a number of positions and coming off the bench to win the first of his five Grand Final winner’s rings in the 8-6 win over Bradford at Old Trafford at the age of 19.
The following March he took the full back berth from the experienced number one Paul Atcheson and never looked back, playing his part in the back-to-back Super League title winning season.
Eccleston-raised, from a strong rugby league family, Wellens had all the attributes for a great full back – safe as houses as the last line of defence defusing the highest of bombs or nailing the wingman with a cover tackle in the corner.
Wellens was a vocal master in organising the defence and making sure the numbers were right in front of him.
He was brave too, playing on in the momentous 2001 World Club Challenge win over Brisbane with a broken cheekbone although succumbing to a similar, but more severe injury two minutes into the 2002 Grand Final after copping a stray boot to the face.
In attack he made up for a lack of blistering pace with an astute positional awareness, instinctively knowing where to be to collect the pass. It stood him in good stead, clocking up 231 tries during a glittering career in the red vee.
The honours followed with further Grand Final successes in 2002, 2006 and 2014, with five Challenge Cup winner’s medals added to that from winning appearances in 2001, 2004 and three in a row from 2006-08.
There were individual awards too, with Wellens’ imperious form during the grand slam 2006 campaign landing him the Man of Steel as well as the RL Writers and Players Player of the Year awards to go alongside the Harry Sunderland Award won at Old Trafford.
He became joint captain of the team in 2011, taking the role full time from 2012 when James Graham moved to the NRL.
Apart from one season in 2003, where a knee injury left him a little off the pace, Wellens delivered a consistently high level of committed performances – even after he lost his starting spot to Jonny Lomax in 2013 and took a role in the middle.
But there was to be one more crowning glory, with Wellens skippering the side to an unlikely win over favourites Wigan in the 2014 Grand Final. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff, with Wellens moving from full back to his original half back berth and producing the deft kick for Tommy Makinson to chase and collect – delivering the trophy that in one fell swoop swept away five years of hurt.
Wellens soldiered on, until a debilitating hip injury forced him to retire midway through the 2015 campaign, bringing the curtain down on a glorious career from one of the town’s favourite sons.