TOMMY Makinson’s decision to leave Saints at the end of the season after 14 years in the red vee will leave a massive hole to fill.

The wingman has been a key component of Saints’ success - not simply with his eye-catching one-handed finishes, but his hard graft in yardage.

The Wiganer has, along with centre Mark Percival, been one of the key set-starters who has laid the foundation for the way Saints have successfully played under a succession of coaches.

And coach Paul Wellens admits that replacing him - and what he brings to the table - will be extremely tough.

Wellens said: “It is a competitive market out there, but Tommy Makinson is still one of the best wingers in Super League and in some ways it becomes almost impossible to replace him.

“What we have got here at the club is some really young, exciting outside backs within the club who I’m sure will be very keen to stake a claim for that position and we’ll certainly be giving them the opportunity to do that.

“But we’ll also be looking externally as well to see where we can fill that void. Those conversations are already ongoing but replacing a player of Tommy’s calibre is no easy task.”

Saints will not just be searching for a new winger, with Makinson’s announcement coming shortly after that of scrum half Lewis Dodd’s.

Whether filled externally or internally Saints will need to source two key players to fill significant voids in the ranks.

Wellens said: “Every decision has an impact on the next and we have to factor all that in. I’ve not been a head coach for a long period of time but working with Eamonn McManus and Mike Rush – two hugely experienced people in that field who have been setting this squad up for success for such a long time.

“So obviously I lean very closely on them and the combination of us all together make some strong decisions around how we can improve this team moving forward and strive to continued success.

“But Tommy is a brilliant player and person who has given so much loyal service to this club and he deserves to leave on his own terms.”

Wellens explained that he and Makinson had been in dialogue for months and that the experienced international wingman was had remained in the club’s plans, but they accepted the player’s decision to go to pastures new.

Wellens said: “Tommy has been absolutely phenomenal, a brilliant rugby player but also a wonderful person.

“He and I have had numerous discussions in recent months around his future – and he is certainly a player that we would have loved to have kept around that’s for sure.

“Those conversations have been hugely respectful and understanding Tommy’s personal circumstances as much as anything, and it’s sad that 2024 is going to be his last with the club.

“But we know that he’s 100 percent committed to helping us to be successful this year.

“So it’s sad news and from our perspective there’s no ill feeling towards Tommy whatsoever.”

In his St Helens Star column this week, former Saints skipper Paul Sculthorpe described Makinson as the best winger of the rugby league’s Super League era.

Wellens concurred: “It's very hard to disagree with that assessment.

“Looking at the types of wonderful finishes that so many wingers do now, I think Tommy was a bit of a trailblazer with that and he was doing it more than anybody going back a good few years now.

“But what this playing group love about Tommy is that he's prepared to run the ball as hard as he can two metres off his own line into a ferocious defensive line.

“He's as brave as they come. He values the tough stuff so when he gets the opportunities to finish down the other end, they are opportunities that have come through the tough work he's earned.”