EVERY cloud has a silver lining. But few people would have hoped or dreamt that the departure of Martin Gleeson to Warrington under the cloud of the Easter Monday betting scandal could have paved the way for the arrival of one of the most gifted Australian players to ever don the red vee.
Although billed as the club’s biggest signing since Mal Meninga, Jamie Lyon’s arrival at Knowsley Road was initially greeted with a degree of scepticism.
After all, despite his undoubted talent, the Kangaroo test centre had walked out on Parramatta one game into the 2004 NRL season citing a disenchantment with big game football and saying he was “sick of Sydney”.
Given his contract with the Eels only expired at the end of 2006, no other NRL club would have been able to have snapped him up. He was a gift from the rugby gods to Saints.
After a stint playing with Wee Waa Panthers, Lyon joined Saints and after the grounds had dried out he had a wow of a year in 2005.
He struck up a telepathic partnership with compatriot Darren Albert, who knew where and when to expect the offload or flick pass.
Not only did Lyon provide superb service to the flank, he had all the attributes to break the line – footwork, pace and power, crossing 24 times from 31 appearances in that first campaign.
It did not go unrecognised, with Lyon waltzing off with the coveted Man of Steel as well as the Player of the Year award.
Although Saints finished top of the league that year, injuries to key men at the back end of the campaign robbed them of a fair crack at the Super League title.
Despite plenty of ‘will he, won’t he’ talk, Lyon returned to St Helens for the second year of his contract, slotting back into Daniel Anderson’s side that was fuelled by the thoughts of unfinished business.
He started that year as he meant to go on, scoring a try and kicking seven goals in the opening game of a tumultuous year at Harlequins.
Lyon, this time linking up with Ade Gardner, again provided some real punch, strike and flair on Saints’ right edge.
Gardner thought all his Christmases had come at once, scoring 31 tries outside Lyon.
Saints waltzed off with a domestic clean sweep of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Super League losing just four matches – narrowly – and being crowned BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year.
His three goals in the 26-4 Grand Final win over Hull FC at Old Trafford were his last contributions to a 610-point two-year haul. But statistics alone cannot do justice to the story of Lyon’s time at Saints.
In a modern game where so much emphasis is placed on raw power and bulk, twinkle-toed Lyon displayed a subtlety and skill that rekindled British rugby league fans’ appreciation of the finer points of centre play.
His team-mates will vouch that Lyon is the most skilful player they have played alongside, praise indeed given the calibre of stars that had graced Knowsley Road in the noughties.
Full back Paul Wellens said: “It was just phenomenal what Jamie could do – he was really skilful and super quick.
“I don’t think people realised how quick he was, but once he got away, nobody caught him.”