THE family of Saints’ first Wembley winner Austin Rhodes have sent their heart-felt thanks to the people of St Helens and the rugby league community following his passing.

The Great Britain World Cup winner died last month after a long illness, aged 81.

His daughter Karen, who now lives in Australia, said the family were overwhelmed with the messages of support and the turnout at the funeral.

Karen said: “We certainly weren’t expecting the number of sympathy cards, phone calls and messages of support.

“We always knew dad was a character and a much-loved Saint but his impact on Swinton both as a player and a coach and as a coach at Pilks Recs I didn’t fully appreciate.

“Dad was adamant that when he was cremated the service be a happy one with no tears and just celebrating a life well-lived.

“It was a rainy and cold day yet there was a warm and upbeat feel and myself, my brother Martyn and my mum Marlene ended the day feeling very grateful and content that dad was sent off in the style he wanted and was worthy of.”

Karen also passed on a message that had come in from South Africa from Leonie Van Vollenhoven, Tom’s widow.

It read: “Our condolences are with all of you as you say your final goodbyes to Austin, a remarkable gentlemen and friend whom Tom and I had the privilege of knowing for many years on a personal level.

“So it’s with a saddened heart that we wish Austin, goodbye and that he may rest in peace, it can be said that the all-time rugby team in heaven has gained an all-time great.

“Lots of love the Van Vollenhoven family.”