THE passing of former Star rugby league writer Denis Whittle has led to a flurry of touching tributes being paid to him.

A popular figure in the town, Denis died aged 85 on Friday, January 4 after suffering a decline in health over the past year.

Born in Clyde Street, St Helens on April 30, 1933, Denis quickly became a Saints die-hard.

He undertook National Service in the Royal Engineers and served in Cyprus and Egypt.

His love of rugby league corresponded with his working life, starting as a newspaper compositor at 16 and he was involved with the compilation and publishing of the first edition of the Rugby Leaguer.

He spent 30 years with the St Helens Reporter, before joining the St Helens Star as a reporter in 1989 until July 2001.

From a famed rugby room containing old programmes, notebooks and photographs spanning decades, Denis continued to write after leaving the Star, working with Alex Service on Saints' 50 Greatest Matches and Marching On and helping Saints legend Duggie Greenall tell his story in 2006.

Denis' passing has seen numerous tributes paid by friends and figures in the rugby league world.

On Facebook, Andy O'Sullivan wrote: "Very sad, was a great bloke, good friend of my dad's and wrote a lovely piece on him when he passed away. And anyone lucky enough to see 'Denis' Den' in his house will know his unrivalled love of rugby league".

Gerard Bimson added: "Sad news-- a conversation with Denis was always memorable - he had a couple of paintings of mine in his extensive RL memorabilia collection. A great character - he will be sorely missed - RIP Denis.

"Still can't believe it that Denis is no longer with us - a great friend and a great rugby league character. We will all miss you very much".

And Michelle Jones said: "Such a lovely kind man who would always pop into our shop to bring us sweets and lots of laughs! The town has lost a true legend. RIP Denis. You are now reunited with your lovely wife xxx"

A tribute from the Rugby Football League on Twitter read: "We were saddened to learn the passing of one of the journalistic stalwarts, Denis Whittle, who covered the game for many years".

Saints supporters site RedVee.Net posted: "Sad to hear of the passing of Saints historian Denis Whittle. I remember reading his columns in the @sthelensstar as a young fan. He was a true authority on all things Saints".

Rugby league journalist Martyn Sadler added: "I'm very sorry to have heard today that Denis Whittle, a fine Rugby League journalist and a great St Helens man, has passed away. My condolences to his family. He was always incredibly helpful for any information about @Saints1890".

And rugby league writer Ian Laybourn said: "A great character, I will never forget bumping into him in a restaurant at the end of a full day tramping around Waiheke Island, of all the bars, in all the world".

Former Guardian rugby league writer and RFL head of media Andy Wilson added: "Sad news - always thought him interviewing Ellery was one of the great RL exchanges".