THIRTY five years ago something happened at Saints that propelled the club back into the big time after spending a few years in mid-table mediocrity.

On October 7, 1984 Kangaroo legend Mal Meninga ran out in the red chevron for the first time.

He arguably changed the course of Saints history more than any other import.

Meninga only played 31 times for Saints but the memories of those games still burn brightly for fans of a certain generation.

When Meninga waltzed in to Saints for an eight-month spell during the 1984-85 season he was joining a club that had been in the doldrums for years.

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The Knowsley Road sideboard had been without a trophy for seven years and crowds, in what was still a strong rugby league town, had dwindled down to the 3,500 – 4,000 mark.

Although Saints had assembled a talented, largely locally produced young squad under coach Billy Benyon, they needed a catalyst to push them those extra few yards and transform them from nearly men to winners.

The formidable shape of Meninga was that missing ingredient and the in the summer before his arrival the town was bubbling again with anticipation.

Rugby league fans in Britain knew only too well what the big Brisbane centre would bring to the party, having witnessed his destructive powers as part of the Australian Invincibles who had gone through the 1982 tour of Britain and France undefeated.

The rest of the league had signed members of that Green and Gold machine on short term contracts – Peter Sterling had gone to Hull, Brett Kenny had joined Wigan and Leeds had signed Eric Grothe but Saints were content that they had got the pick of the bunch.

The fact that the fans in St Helens still talk about Meninga, his 28 tries in 31 games, the way he put 2,500 on the average gates and the ending of the club’s silverware drought, suggests they had witnessed something special.

Meninga arrived in early October with relatively unknown clubmate Phil Veivers in tow; the full back staying quite a bit longer than eight months and becoming an adopted son.

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Meninga believes heading to south Lancashire, in the immediate aftermath of losing the Brisbane Grand Final 42-8 to Wally Lewis’ Wynnum Manly, was just the tonic he needed to build his confidence back up.

“It was exciting for me because I came over to St Helens off the back of getting smashed in the Grand Final at home so my confidence was down. So coming here and the style of footy they play was a revelation for me.

“I really enjoyed that style and we scored a lot of points that year so it was a really fun time for me and the way the team played.

"They were all great players of that era, I really enjoyed the style of rugby coach Billy Benyon had us playing.

"Within five games here I was running around Central Park with the Lancashire Cup – it was always nice to beat Wigan, even from an Aussie point of view, because they were one of the yardsticks of the competition.”

Although Saints were knocked out early in the Challenge Cup by Hull KR and missed out on the league to the same opponents, they finally got one over the Robins in the Premiership Final at Elland Road.

Meninga saved one of his best match-winning performances for his final match, with his two interceptions setting them on course for a 36-16 win over the champions.

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But it was not just the big games that mattered for the man they dubbed Mighty Mal.

“Of course, you want to play in the big games, and the finals stick out, but week to week it was just the general lifestyle here that suited me and I loved everything about it,” he said.

“I had a lot of fun here, on and off the field, and socially we got on really well and formed a great bond of friendship. It was a positive experience.”

No sooner had Meninga returned did the chatter talk of if and when he would be back.

And in the late 80s and early 90s, when Wigan took a complete stranglehold on rugby league, the vision of Meninga striding on to Knowsley Road in the red vee once more to be the saviour of the Saints was clung to more keenly than any comfort blanket.

The fact that it never materialised was a source of regret from both sides – even if Meninga himself went on to achieve even greater things in skippering Canberra Raiders to the Premiership and the Australians to more Ashes success.

“It is something I mention all the time, but my one true regret about the game was not coming back and having the opportunity to play for St Helens again,” he said.

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“That was a disappointment, but playing at Saints was one of the best times of my career.

“I actually signed a contract to come back to St Helens in 1988 but unfortunately I broke my arm which prevented me from coming back.

“Then the club I was playing for at the time – the Canberra Raiders – were going through a purple patch and winning competitions.

“I was the captain of the club at the time so it was hard to wrench myself away from there. It was the way the cards fell.”

Meninga did grace Knowsley Road again – albeit wearing the green and gold of the Australians on the subsequent tours.

And in 1986 he was actually cheered by the home fans when he went over for a try for the tourists.

“I was a little bit injured for that game but the coach said I should play - it was fun and I enjoyed it.

“The reception I received was great, but very humbling and as I said, a little embarrassing at times, but saying that I am very proud that I played for the club,” Meninga said.