“HE got the ball and then whoosh,” a post-match quote from then coach Ian Millward after the blond flyer had raced in for a try at home to Hull FC during his first weeks as a Saints player.
Darren Albert had lightning pace and was in the peak of his powers, aged 25, when he signed for Saints from Newcastle Knights ahead of the 2002 season.
He had already achieved plenty back home, notching the winning try for Mal Reilly’s Knights in the 1997 Grand Final win over Manly.
He arrived at Saints along with compatriots Darren Britt and Barry Ward, but he must have wondered what he had let himself in for when he made his senior debut in the Challenge Cup game against Oldham at a freezing cold, rain-lashed Stalybridge ground ankle deep in mud.
But once the grounds firmed up a little, Albert soon showed what he could do with Saints’ expansive game and the service of skilful young centre Martin Gleeson delivering the half chances for Aussie speedster to fly down the wing.
Albert scored three hat-tricks in his first season, including one in the 2002 Challenge Cup semi-final win over Leeds.
Although he scored in the final two weeks later at Murrayfield, climbing highest to a pin-point Sean Long crossfield kick to touch down, Saints fell to a surprise defeat by Wigan.
But they finished the campaign strongly, with Albert grabbing a brace in the 50-22 thrashing of Bradford at Valley Parade which did wonders for the for and against tally, Saints finishing top of the table on points difference ahead of their bitter early Super League rivals.
Saints defeated Bradford at Old Trafford to cap a fine first year for ever-present Albert, who finished with a personal tally of 25 tries from 37 games.
Although 2003 saw Saints struggle, they were back among the trophies in 2004 with Albert adding a Challenge Cup medal to his collection following the win over Wigan in Cardiff.
That season saw Albert lose his centre partner Martin Gleeson firstly due to a four-month suspension and then a sale to Warrington – which had an impact.
Albert himself had to play plenty of games in the centre, but the following year Saints signed Jamie Lyon and Albert thought all of his Christmases had come. A tally of 28 tries from as many appearances told their own story, with the Australian duo striking up a telepathic understanding and seeing Saints, with Daniel Anderson at the helm, win the League Leaders’ Shield.
Alas, Albert suffered a broken cheekbone in the defeat by Wigan, ruling him out of the play-offs.
It was the last time he played for Saints, and despite signing an earlier contract to stay at Knowsley Road, he returned to the NRL with Cronulla Sharks at the end of the year.