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Saints unveil their best ever 17
AFTER much deliberation, a panel featuring representatives of the media, past players, supporters and senior club officials have selected the following 17 players.
Mike Critchley looks at the the cream of the Knowsley Road crop over the past 120 years.
1. Paul Wellens Impossible to imagine the Great Britain, England and Lancashire full back ever playing for any other club side. On the field his ability to read a game and know exactly where to be has been his strongest asset in both defence and attack. Safe as houses under the high ball and brave mine-sweeping the grubbers. His bravery was epitomised by his performance in the side’s first World Club Challenge win over Brisbane in 2001 when he played on with a fractured cheekbone.
2. Tom van Vollenhoven An automatic choice for the number 2 jersey, the name of the flying Springbok is etched into the town’s sporting folklore after he used his pace, deceptive strength and swerve to grab 392 tries in 408 appearances for the Saints.
Voll scored on his debut at Knowsley Road against Leeds in 1957 and enjoyed a glittering career before bowing out in 1967/68. Highlights included the spectacular length of the field try in conjunction with Ken Large at Wembley against Wigan in 1961 and an amazing hat-trick against Hunslet in the 1959 Championship final at Odsal.
3. Duggie Greenall One of rugby league’s big characters and despite only tipping the scales at around 12 stones he put the fear of god into the opposition, including the Australians, with his brutally unorthodox tackling technique. Crowds would shout ‘Give ’em mammy!’ Former Rivington Road pupil Greenall played the first of his 487 matches against Salford on April 10, 1946.
He scored 188 tries for the club, leaving at the end of 1959 to sign for Wigan.
4. Paul Newlove When then chief executive David Howes delivered record buy Newlove from Bradford in November 29, 1995 it was the calling card that Saints meant business in their bid to end Wigan’s dominance. The £250,000 plus popular players Paul Loughlin, Sonny Nickle and Bernard Dwyer going to Odsal was repaid tenfold.
His footwork, fend and dash to the line became a trademark feature of Saints’ early summer success. He was an integral part of the left hand gang of Tommy Martyn, Chris Joynt and Anthony Sullivan, which terrorised defences for the first six years of Super League.
5. Alf Ellaby Capped 13 times by Great Britain, the prolific try scorer had two spells at Saints – after injury had cut short his football career at Rotherham United. He scored 271 tries in 261 matches between 1925-33. He was sold to Wigan because Saints desperately needed the money to survive but returned in December 1937 for another 13-month spell.
6. Les Fairclough.
Born in 1902, Fairclough played 355 for Saints including their first Lancashire Cup Final win against Recs in 1926. He toured with Great Britain. Australia in 1928.
7. Alex Murphy A Saints legend, signed as a 16-year-old in 1956 and nurtured into a brilliant scrum half. Mercurial Murphy had pace, flair and an abundance of confidence. Although a scrum half legend - he played stand off and centre in his two Wembley appearances for Saints. He left for Leigh in 1966 with still plenty to offer the game, having scored 175 tries in 320 appearances.
8. Alan Prescott The powerful Widnesian was signed from Halifax for £2,000 in January 1949 playing 11 seasons and then becoming coach. As captain he won the Lance Todd in Saints’ first Wembley win in 1956. He famously led Great Britain to victory over Australia in the Battle of Brisbane in 1958 despite having broken his arm after just four minutes. He played 404 games for Saints, and gained 12 England and 31 Great Britain caps.
9. Keiron Cunningham Remarkably still going strong after 16 seasons at the top level. A powerful runner and devastating tackler, the talismanic Saints skipper has been the constant in Saints summer era of success.
10. Cliff Watson ‘Come and join us if you are big and fast,’ were the words of the newspaper advertisement that enticed Cliff Watson from Dudley in 1960. He went on to play 367 times including the 1961 and 1966 Challenge Cup Finals. He was a tower of strength in Great Britain’s tussles against Australia and ended up moving Down Under to play 11. George Nicholls Though not the biggest of forwards, Nicholls was tough and creative. He was a World Cup winner in 1972, joining Saints a year later. He was key part of the pack that won the Championship in 1975 and bettered Widnes in the 1976 Challenge Cup Final. He won the Lance Todd Trophy in the Leeds defeat two years later.
12. Dick Huddart The big and powerful Cumbrian was already a test player when he joined from Whitehaven in 1958. His speed and strength were key to breaking open defences in the late 50s and early 60s. A championship winner in 1959, he played a key part in Saints’ Wembley win over Wigan in 1961, winning the Lance Todd in the process. He left Saints in 1964, joining Sydney giants St George.
13. Vinty Karalius Another automatic choice, Vinty played over 250 times after his debut in April 1952.
Tough-as-teak fitness fanatic Karalius was another player who put fear into the Aussies, who dubbed him the Wild Bull of the Pampas.
A cup winner in 1956, Karalius skippered Saints to Wembley glory in 1961 against Wigan.
He signed for his native Widnes the following year – guiding the unfashionable club to Wembley success two years later.
Substitutes: Sean Long, Chris Joynt, Paul Sculthorpe, Kel Coslett.