Anfield magic sparks memories of Saints' 1997 clash with Castleford at iconic venue

Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax at Anfield
Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax at Anfield

Visionary chief executive David Howes was way ahead of his time when, in the early years of his tenure at Saints, he arranged to play a Super League clash against Castleford Tigers at iconic Anfield.

More than 20 years have elapsed since that 1997 April date but St Helens will return to one of the world's most famous soccer stadiums as part of the Magic Weekend next month and will face their West Yorkshire rivals once again.

Jonny Lomax and the iconic 'Welcome to Anfield' sign above the tunnel

Jonny Lomax and the iconic 'Welcome to Anfield' sign above the tunnel

It proved an outstanding success on the last occasion for the club, who at the time were the defending Super League championship.

Not only did they attract a 12,329-strong crowd, but crushed the West Yorkshire outfit 42-16.

Unfortunately, hopes of it becoming an annual event never materialised but while the current Magic Weekend involves all 12 Super League clubs featuring in a two-day extravaganza, the seeds were no doubt first sown by the inventive and forward-thinking Howes during his time at Knowsley Road, using his journalistic training and time as the RL press officer to point the way forward.

Hat-trick hero Karle Hammond took the McEwan Lager man-of-the-match award on the day but he was quick to acknowledge the part played by his team-mates, as was Paul Newlove who claimed the Owens Corning accolade with a two-try show which was all too much for Cas.

Tommy Makinson gets a feel for the Anfield dressing rooms

Tommy Makinson gets a feel for the Anfield dressing rooms

Apollo Perelini, Keiron Cunningham and Chris Joynt also figured high in the match ratings, as did dynamic substitutes Andy Northey and Ian Pickavance who did their Wembley prospects a power of good as they set Anfield alight with their power-packed running and ability to release the ball in the tackle.

Live-wire half back Danny Orr gave Castleford a first-minute lead with a penalty for ball-stealing and the Yorkshire side, although pushing the offside rule to its limits, proceeded to
enjoy territorial advantage in the opening exchanges without piercing the water-tight St Helens' defence.

Dissent then found Brendan Tuuta bound for the sin-bin and Saints took advantage of their numerical superiority as Bobbie Goulding's astute pass put Newlove over for the skipper to tack on the goal points.

The Tigers roared back through Dean Sampson and Jason Lidden only for Tommy Martyn to distinguish himself with a try-saving tackle, and it was Saints who set the scoreboard moving again when, after Newlove was stopped on the line, Steve Prescott and Perilini carved out an opening for Hammond, with Goulding converting.

With Northey entering the fray for blood-binned Julian O'Neill, Saints moved into a 16-2 half-time lead when the hard-grafting Joynt and Goulding put Newlove over again and the skipper added a penalty.

On the restart , the Saints' scrum-half cross-kicked from the left wing across the posts for the fast-following Martyn to score another six-pointer.

Castleford wasted a glaring opportunity when Lidden broke away but failed to spot unmarked St Helens product Jason Roach on his right.

Remarkably, the Tigers bounced back into fleeting contention when admirable skipper Mike Ford twice chipped to the Saints' right for Adrian Vowles and then Simon Middleton to score.
Orr converted the second touchdown from the sideline, but Northey brought the seated crowd to its feet with a magnificent 50-yard break which had try written all over it, but Castleford substitute Diccon Edwards thought otherwise with a superb last-ditch tackle.

However, the touch paper had been lit for an 18-points-in-as-many-minutes spree by Saints, with full-back Prescott's convincing dummy seeing him achieve a lifetime's ambition
in scoring at the Kop end. Northey, Perelini and Goulding then put Hammond over before Pickavance's tremendous surge saw Hammond make it three in a row.

Goulding tagged on the conversions to finish with seven goals, while the never-say-die Tigers had the last say with a fine consolation try from Orr.

Managed by Aussie Shaun McRae, the Saints'. squad that day read: Steve Prescott, Danny Arnold, Andy Haigh, Paul Newlove, Anthony Sullivan, Tommy Martyn, Bobbie Goulding, Apollo Perelini, Keiron Cunningham, Julian O'Neill, Chris Joynt, Chris Morley, Karle Hammond, Vila Matautia, Paul Anderson, Andy Northey and Ian Pickavance.

Tickets are available for the St Helens-Cas match and the full Magic Weekend schedule of fixtures by calling 01744 455052, visiting club ticket office, or online.

2019 members can also save a huge 50 per cent off their ticket when purchased via the club (not available online) until April 30.

There is still time to secure your 2019 Magic shirt with pre-orders closing this Sunday, April 28, at the Catalans Dragons home fixture. All details around the shirt can be found on line.