St Helens RFC’s 10 Greatest Players
As one of the 22 original members of the Northern Rugby Football Union there have been a lot of players in and out of the doors at St. Helens. The club was founded in 1873 and the Saints have been league champions 13 times. They have also compiled 21 Challenge Cup finals, picking up 12 wins for a better than fifty percent strike rate.
This makes the task of picking the greatest 10 players to ever wear the Red V a little difficult. Thankfully for all involved we are in the difficult tasks business and as a result here are the 10 greatest St. Helens players (plus one) of all time:
Special Mention: Ray French
Ray French played for St. Helens from 1961 to 1967. He played lock for England’s rugby union team in the 1961 Five Nations Champions before switching codes and joining the Saints. He went on to achieve caps for Great Britain making him one of the rare players to be a dual-code international. French may be more well-known, though, for being the voice of BCC rugby where he commentated on every Challenge Cup Final between 1982 and 2008. French certainly packed everything he could into his rugby life and he earns a special mention for his wonderful contribution to St. Helens and rugby league.
10. Paul Sculthorpe
It is strange to say this about a player who appeared almost 250 times for the club, but Paul Sculthorpe was a player whose career ended far too early. Sculthorpe won four Grand Finals, four Challenge Cups, and two World Club Challenges with the Saints. He was also the first, and as of now the only, player to win the Man of Steel Award on two occasions. Serious shoulder injuries forced an early retirement for a player who might be the greatest British loose forward of the modern era due to his all-round combination of strength, ball-playing, and desire to be the best.
9. Sean Long
Sean Long was one of the greatest entertainers of the early Super league era. The halfback played for the Saints from 1997 to 2009, scoring 124 tries and 2,140 points in 265 appearances. Astonishingly Long also scored 20 drop goals for the Saints, going to show that whatever the game and the situation Long was always in the spotlight. He was a gifted and natural footballer, a maverick who could take over a game and who was completely unstoppable when he was in the right mood.
8. Alan Prescott
Widnes-born Alan Prescott started off as a winger but he is best known for packing down in the scrum during his long Saints career. Prescott played 404 times for St. Helens, 11 times for England, and 28 times for Great Britain during an outstanding 11 year stint. Ironically, Prescott had a far better strike rate for Great Britain, where he scored five tries, than for St. Helens, where he scored 31 tries, during his whole career. His biggest performance came in a game against Australia in Brisbane where he led his side to victory despite breaking his arm just four minutes into the match.
7. Paul Wellens
St. Helens has been blessed at fullback over the years with talented players who locked down the spot for a decade at a time. Paul Wellens had the ability to read the game like no one else, always appearing to be a couple of steps ahead both in attack and defense. He was also a stunningly good player under the high ball and he ran out 499 times for St. Helens between 1998 and 2015. His biggest moment may have been the Saints first World Club Challenge win (2001) where he courageously played on despite a fractured cheekbone.
There’s only been a handful of players who’ve inspired me and [Paul Wellens] is one of them
– Great Britain International, Leon Pryce
6. Vince Karalius
Vince Karalius would almost get into this team based on nothing more than nickname alone. Anyone known as “The Wild Bull of the Pampas” should be on a best of list! Thankfully ‘Vinty’ has plenty of merit too. The strong running loose forward had an imposing frame, way before players hit the gym regularly, and as a result his tackling was unlike anything previously seen. An inspirational performer, Karalius played over 250 times for St. Helens and captained the club to victory in the 1961 Challenge Cup Final.
5. Cliff Watson
Probably the only player on this list to have responded to a newspaper advertisement, Cliff Watson played 373 games for St. Helens before moving on to spend a couple of years in Australia with Cronulla-Sutherland. The ad read, “Come and join us if you are big and fast.” Watson was both of those and is widely regarded as one of the best front rowers that the UK has ever produced. He was tough, fearless, and a destructive tackler, all of which combined to see him win 30 caps for Great Britain. Watson also made a significant impact during his time in Australia and was recently named in the Cronulla Sharks Team of the Half-Century.
4. Tom van Vollenhoven
There were not many Springbok wingers playing rugby league in the North of England in the late 1950s, but Tom van Vollenhoven somehow found his way to St. Helens. Playing in the Saints shirt for 10 seasons, van Vollenhoven scored 392 tries in 208 appearances for an outstanding strike rate. His main weapons were his devastating pace and his patented swerve, but van Vollenhoven also had the deceptive strength to power through a tackle when needed.
3. Kel Coslett
Kel Coslett is known as “The Welsh Saint” for the work he put in at St. Helens during a remarkable career. Coslett still retains club records for most games played (531) and most points scored (3,413). He also holds a number of individual records, including the most points by a player in a single season for the club.
Coslett played for St. Helens for nearly 15 years after converting from rugby union, and was an outstanding goal kicker in an era where kicking was king. His main asset was his blistering pace and ability to break the defense with a well angled line, traits that saw him succeed in both codes.
2. Keiron Cunningham
Keiron Cunningham played for the Saints for 16 seasons from 1994 to 2010. He made 496 appearances for the club and scored 175 points. He is widely regarded not only as one of the greatest St. Helens players of all time, but also as one of the best rugby league players of the Super League era.
Cunningham won it all while playing for the Red V. His tally of five Super League Championships, seven Challenge Cups, two World Club Challenges, and six appearances in the Super League Dream Team shows why there is now a bronze statue of him outside of Langtree Park
1. Alex Murphy
Alex Murphy is Mr. St. Helens. He was signed to the club as a 16-year-old fresh out of school in 1956, way before this was a common thing to do. He spent 10 years at St. Helens and scored 175 tries in 320 appearances, mainly from the scrum half spot. Murphy also managed to do this while moonlighting as a rugby union player for the Air Force during his national service, often playing both codes in the same week.
Murphy was fast, confident, and full of flair, possessing a level of skill that was before his time. He was versatile enough to play stand off and centre in his two Wembley appearances and he ran in nine tries in 11 games on the 1962 Ashes tour.