WHEN Saints came face-to-face with the touring Kangaroos at Knowsley Road in October 1982, they did not yet know that this Green and Gold machine was about to make history as the Invincibles.

Nor would they have known that one of those Kangaroos - centre Mal Meninga - would return two years later and kickstart Saints into a new era.

St Helens Star:

It may have been one to forget for the fans, who watched a depleted Saints side take a 32-0 drubbing, but it was a red-letter day for the Saints centre that day given the unenviable task of marking the hulking frame of Meninga.

Dave Fairclough, who had been signed from West Park Rugby Union club four years earlier, got his opportunity because Saints rested players ahead of the following weekend’s Lancashire Cup Final.

Understandably it is a game Fairclough, who had been a stalwart of the A team for six seasons after signing in 1978, recalls fondly despite the lopsided scoreline.

St Helens Star:

He said: “I may have only played seven first team games at Saints but I can say I have done something a lot of players haven’t done – marking Mal Meninga and playing against the Invincibles.

“I remember the game vividly and the team we played against was virtually the test side that played against Great Britain a fortnight later.

“I have really fond memories of playing at Saints, but that game against the Kangaroos was definitely the highlight of my career.”

St Helens Star:

Those fans attending were treated to a display of power, pace, skill and support play that was so bewildering that is debatable whether Saints first choice squad would have made one jot of difference to the outcome.

It was the Saints fans' first glimpse of players who would become legends. Not just Big Mal, but Rolling Thunder Eric Grothe who rumbled over for two special tries, young half back pairing Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny and a powerful back row Wayne Pearce.

It was a sheer exhibition of offloading, twisting in the tackle and support play...and a joy to witness but tough for the Saints, starting with just six of their first-choice players, to deal with.

“It was a big thing for me just to sign for Saints but to play in a game like that – against a touring side was massive for me.

“I can understand why the club did it – they were playing the Lancashire Cup Final the week after – but for the likes of me and other lads who got a shout like Bryan Gelling and Mick Glover it was a great experience,” Fairclough said.

Fairclough had never played rugby league before joining Saints, having gone through rugby union playing school West Park, before playing up at Red Rocks.

He played three trial games in the A team, after being invited by scouts, and was then offered a contract for Eric Ashton’s side.

St Helens Star:

“I was 19 years old, a born and bred St Helens lad getting the opportunity to play rugby league for his hometown team – who would turn that down?” he said.

It was a time of transition for Saints with some of the older heads coming to the ends of their careers, but from his place in the A team he could see the talent that was still coming through.

That late 70s and early 80s period saw players like Roy Haggerty, Chris Arkwright, Steve Peters and Barrie Ledger develop and then later on Paul Forber and Paul Round.

It was that young talent, added to the likes of local pivots and playmakers Graham Liptrot, Neil Holding and Harry Pinner, that helped Saints overcome a tricky transition.

“There was so much talent coming through then, but that is typical St Helens and they still produce players today.

“Roy Haggerty signed a couple of weeks before I did and I was his best man at his wedding - we were two new guys who stayed together and were best pals,” he said.

Fairclough explained that he was helped hugely by the experienced players in the Saints ranks, too, and recalls his debut against Bradford Northern in 1979, when his winger Les Jones gave him some last-minute re-assurance.

Fairclough said: “When we were running out on to the pitch he looked at me and said ‘when the ball is coming across you just take your man and I will take everybody else that is outside’.

“There is no substitute for experience – and that particular game Les made it easy for me.

“I played in that team with Harry (Pinner), Lippy and Chissy – and what a player he was.”

Fairclough was relatively young at 27 when he called time on his playing career, despite getting offers from other clubs.

“I had an opportunity to play at Rochdale Hornets and Huyton/Runcorn I didn’t want to play for anyone but Saints.

“I loved my time at Saints and even though I only played predominantly A team rugby I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything,” he said.