Paul Wellens was the guest of honour at the All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group’s annual dinner at the Palace of Westminster.
Hosted by Lord Hoyle, the event on the House of Lords terrace brought together MP and groups supporters.
Wellens, who was the guest speaker on the night, wasn’t the only St Helens representative in attendance.
MP Marie Rimmer, who is a key member of the group, and Mike Denning, chairman of Thatto Heath Crusaders, were also at the evening.
Wellens is now part of the England and St Helens coaching set up, and gave his reflections on the recent Four Nations tournament, before being joined by England and Warrington prop forward Chris Hill, to answer attendees’ questions.
Celebrating its 28th year, the group is one of the most active in Parliament, and comprises 70 members from both Houses and across all major parties.
Group chairman Greg Mulholland MP reflected on the group’s activities over the past year.
He said: “The Parliamentary Rugby League Group continues to work hard to challenge the issues that the game faces. Members of the Group are passionate about rugby league, from the elite level to grassroots, and are delighted to be able to support the game wherever they can.
“Members provide an active voice for the sport in Westminster and Whitehall, not just because we are fans of the game, but because we believe in the values that rugby league holds dearly.
“We are thankful to associate members for their continued input, as well as sponsors Kingstone Press and the RFL for making this dinner possible, and hope that we can work more closely with these supporters to the benefit of our sport.”
Throughout the evening, attendees were encouraged to take part in a silent auction, and in a raffle to win a commemorative ball.
By the end of the evening the Group was able to announce a donation for charity partner, Rugby League Cares, of over £3,000.
The highlight of the evening was the Group awards. The winner of the Group’s 2016 Super League Player of the Year award was announced as Hull FC hooker Danny Houghton. Houghton was instrumental in a season that saw Hull FC win the Challenge Cup and finish second in the Super League. He was this year’s Man of Steel, and also retained the Super League “Hit Man” award after making a total of 1289 tackles over the course of the season, an average of 44 per game.
The Geoff Lofthouse Award, named after one of the late founders and long-standing Chair of the Group, was made to Sir Rodney Walker. Sir Rodney was Chair of Wakefield Trinity RLFC between 1986 and 1993, before leaving to take up the post of RFL Chair, which he held until 2002. Now an Honorary Life Vice President of the RFL, Sir Rodney continues to be involved with the game as part of the project to deliver a redeveloped ground for Wakefield Trinity.
The Group also announced four new Honorary Life Members: Martin Coyd OBE, who was instrumental in establishing rugby league in the Army, and has played a leading role in the development of Wheelchair rugby league; Andrew Cudbertson, one of the founders of University and College rugby league in the UK; Mike Denning, chairman of one of the country’s largest community clubs, Thatto Heath Crusaders; and Paul Wellens, in recognition of his contribution to the game over a playing career spanning 17 years.