THE days when Testimonials were synonymous with player’s swansong at a club are long gone….and if you want a clear example take a look at this year’s Saints beneficiary Tommy Makinson.

The England wing and former Golden Boot winner is in the prime of his career at 29, with plenty of success behind him but even more to look forward to.

Makinson gets to kick off his tenth season in the red vee with Saturday’s match with newly promoted Leigh, which doubles as the club’s only trial game before Super League commences.

Signed from Wigan St Judes, Makinson was 19 when he was handed his senior debut by Royce Simmons at the start of the 2011 season – grabbing his chance when Ade Gardner suffered an injury.

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He must have done something right as once he got that shot, he kept it, slotting in at full back in that year’s heartbreaking Grand Final at Old Trafford when Paul Wellens went off injured.

Makinson is able to reflect on the highs and lows of an eventful 10 years – and is grateful for all the support he has had along the way from senior colleagues and fans.

He said: “When I made my debut, we had club legends like Paul Wellens at full back with Ade Gardner and Francis Meli on the wings. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to play – full back, centre, wing – I could play a bit everywhere.

“I was lucky to have those great mentors who helped me on the way. If I ever got put in before Ade he was always really good with me and always wanted to help me improve my game.

“Paul Wellens helped me too, and it was exactly the same when I got dropped. If I lost my place those same fellas would be there for me, and I was grateful for that.

“Those senior lads – no matter what was happening here – have kept us grounded and telling us what our role was and what happens.”

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In his time at Saints he has won three Grand Finals and earned England honours, but the decade has not gone without its pain and significant hurdles to overcome.

“I don’t know a player who has not gone through a 10-year career and not had ups and downs,” he said.

“I had two years there where I really questioned whether rugby was the pathway I was going to go down with the injuries I was having.

“I had rotten luck with injuries and was not enjoying it 100 per cent. In 2015 I did ankle twice in the same year and at Easter Monday 2016 I did the ACL in my knee in round six at Widnes.

“It was really tough for those two years but my family, missus and the good people around the club made everything so much easier.

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“I made a choice – you can’t play this sport and not give it your all - if you want to get to the top you have got to train like you mean it and with all the support around me I managed to do that and I have not looked back.”

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Makinson may have caught the eye with his flying one-handed corner flag finishes, but there is an aspect of his game that has earned the plaudits of every coach he has had – his return of the ball with those line clearing runs.

So even when his try tally fluctuates – as it has done depending on the way Saints attack – Makinson’s work as a set-starter has remained consistent.

He explains: “The last five years the role of the winger has evolved, for a winger now you have to be a strong ball carrier and combine that with getting over the line.

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“The props, for example, start to respect wingers for what they do for the team – we are not simply the quick fellas on the touchline any more.

“My role is bigger than ever, and people respect it.

“You get whacked by a load of 100 plus kilo plus blokes when you return it but you just get on with it.

“It is something I enjoy and I like to think that me and Reegs (Regan Grace) have played a part in the team being successful. All teams now have to have good ball carriers.”

Makinson singled out making his England debut in Denver, particularly teaming back up with James Graham who had departed in 2011.

Injuries had meant a delayed start to his international career, but he made up for it with those tests against the Kiwis in 2018, particularly his stunning hat-trick at Anfield.

The year’s displays in the test arena saw him earn the prestigious Golden Boot.

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At club level Makinson credits the work done by Justin Holbrook between 2017-19 as having a positive effect.

“He came in and took my game to the next level. He helped everyone become a bit more confident and take our game forward.

“And the culmination of that was winning the Grand Final in 2019 beating Salford.

“We had lost the Challenge Cup at Wembley having been favourites to win it and had a big chat on the bus on the way home.

“The message was ‘We can’t carry on being the team that drops the ball at the last hurdle- so winning that final was special.

“Then we backed that up in 2020 – so you can see I have been blessed but I have the opportunity to make many more good memories.

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“It’s a cliché but I am living my dream – I go to training every day and have a laugh with my mates, train really hard, trying to be the best player I can be – but when all is said and done I am doing it with the people I care about the most and for the people, and the supporters who have stuck by me.

“It has been an enjoyable journey – it doesn’t feel that long and there have been many a special memories made between then and now. It has been magic, bit I am looking froward to making more.

Although fans will not be there in the flesh, but the game has been made available on the Our League app – and there should be a big online following to pay tribute to Makinson’s decade at the club and take an early peek at the club’s four new boys in action.

As the lockdown restrictions ease, Makinson will unveil more of his planned activities so that the fans can be more involved.

"I am massively missing the fans at the games. As soon as they get back we can get back to a bit of normality. I'm looking forward to them coming back because that is why we play the game.

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"We are all aware that the St Helens shirt we pull on is steeped in a history bigger than ourselves – it is built on support of the people in the town. So of course, we can't wait to have them back.

"I remember in the first lockdown, ringing people and checking on our older members and listening to their stories of the 50s and 60s when they started watch. The club is special to those fans," he said.

Pictures: Copyright Bernard Platt