The St Helens RFC Players’ Association’s 41st Annual Luncheon was enjoyed by a packed house on Sunday, featuring a range of stars from before the First World War through to the Super League era.

Names like Abe Terry, Paul Forber, Steve Bayliss, Peter Atherton, Steve Peters rubbed shoulders with Nick Fozzard, Paul Clough, Mark Flanagan who joined the throng to celebrate three new inductees into the Association’s Prestigious Hall of Fame.

Expertly hosted by Tommy Frodsham and Allan Rooney, the first inductee was the flying winger Jimmy Flanagan who scored 125 tries from 1908-1915, whose one and only final was the 37-3 reversal against Huddersfield in the 1915 Challenge Cup final. A Lancashire County player, he joined the famous St Helens Pals, as a member of the Prince of Wales Volunteers 11th South Lancs Battalion.

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Sadly, he lost his life after being hit by shrapnel on 14th May 1918 and is buried at Arneke British Cemetery in Northern France.

Jimmy Flanagan’s grandson, of the same name brought the house down when he showed the audience his Grandad’s Lancashire jersey and cap.

He was later presented with a framed montage of Jimmy’s rugby highlights by former Saint Peter Harvey, who had previously been involved with a heritage project to commemorate the exploits of this famous Battalion.

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Fast forward to the mid-seventies and the second inductee was one of a raft of Saints’ great Welsh players over the years: Mel James.

The tough as teak front rower overcame an horrendous leg injury against Australia to become a stalwart for the Saints as the team was rebuilt from the famous Dad’s Army of the mid-seventies. Mel played 321 times for his only rugby league club, scoring 41 tries and was a Welsh international.

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Roy Mathias and Christina James

Ill health prevented his attendance but his special framed photograph was accepted by his granddaughter Lyn, who also brought his scrapbook for perusal.

Before the third inductee was introduced, there was a special presentation of commemorative cut glassware to the one-and-only James Roby, by fellow number 9 Graham Liptrot, a recent addition to the Saints’ 500 appearance club.

“Two moments are really special for me in terms of memories,” James told Allan Rooney.

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Graham Liptrot and James Roby.

“Just being in that dressing room at Knowsley Road before my debut with my jersey with my name on the back was really special and of course for me, the 2021 Grand final was so memorable when we won our third in succession. I was so proud to be the captain that day.”

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The last inductee brought the house down. Paul Wellens’s name was greeted by tumultuous applause in recognition of his tremendous record at club and international level.

It meant so much to the five times Grand final and Challenge Cup winner: “It’s fantastic to receive this in front of so many past players that I have watched and admired over the years and I know my dad would have been hugely proud for me,”he said.

Yet his most memorable career highlight in the red vee was to captain the team in their 2014 Grand final success against Wigan.

“I carried around an ache in my gut after losing five Grand Finals,” he added, “so this victory was so special and was such a relief for the team and the fans.”

It was a superb climax to a memorable afternoon and credit to the Players Association Committee and Steve Leonard for their organisational skills.

Thoughts will now turn to next year’s event which will coincide with the birth of rugby in the town. No doubt another packed house is on the cards!