THE death of Austin Rhodes – a member of the first Saints team to win at Wembley and a Great Britain World Cup winner – has been greeted with understandable sadness across the rugby league community.

A two-times Wembley winner, the former St Austin’s pupil enjoyed two spells at his home town club crossing the whitewash 97 times and booting 815 goals in a glittering career.

BBC Radio Merseyside commentator Allan Rooney, who as a young supporter followed Austin's career but then got to know him personally after he retired, gave a glowing tribute to the player and personality and outlined the qualities that made him so special.

Allan said: “You don’t see much of his kind around today.

“Austin was a play-maker, a clever footballer, who could read situations.

“Austin was the brains behind that side and he dovetailed very well with Alec (Murphy), who had the blistering pace.

“He was a very clever player, a complete footballer and goalkicker to boot.

“It was a team of big personalities and Austin was a big personality.”

Austin joined the club at 15 and signed professional when he was 16. His first season in the first team was incredible, with the 19-year-old playing a role in that first Saints Wembley win against Halifax.

He did it the highest international level too, and Allan recalls the 1956 tour match against the Kangaroos at Knowsley Road.

“I can remember that game as if it was yesterday. Clive Clifford kicked a penalty for Australia, but that was it. Saints absolutely bush-whacked them, 44-2.

“That team was terrific,” he said.

Austin earned selection in the following year’s World Cup and in 1960 was a winner as Great Britain topped the table to beat the Australians.

Allan said: “If you think of the quality in that Great Britain squad – for Austin to get his place at full back in the World Cup match against Australia – ahead of the likes of Bernard Ganley and Eric Fraser – showed you how good a footballer he was.”

Another Wembley win followed, with Austin kicking three goals in the 12-6 win over Wigan.

He had a job on that afternoon, particularly keeping Wigan’s unstoppable wing Billy Boston at bay.

Allan recalls: “Cliff Watson, Brian McGinn and Austin had done wonders on Billy Boston, who was a big, powerful lad. But Austin was a key member keeping him out that day.

“He kicked well too, with a tremendous one from the half way line. The sides were so evenly matched but the pace of the Saints side probably got them home.

“Austin was always instrumental in Saints’ successes up to him leaving.”

Allan got to know Austin after visiting him for a project called Memory Lane he was working on and became friends with him and has visited him regularly in recent years.

“He had a dry sense of humour – he always liked a laugh and was good company.

“He was always talking about the old days and rugby. He loved reminiscing about the Saints.

“It is so sad,” he said.