A Saints’ legend has been back to the town where he thrilled adoring fans between 1987 and 1995 and fittingly he was able to find time to be among the special guests on a night they faced the only other English club he had represented during his time in the UK.
Shane Cooper - on a month long stay in the country - watched St Helens 36-6 victory over the Widnes Vikings on Friday and was able to share some of the magical moments of his playing career with old friends and acquaintances.
I’ve a strong affinity with the town of St Helens - my two sons were born hereShane Cooper
The 56-year-old former New Zealand international, who joined Saints from the Mangera East club in Auckland and was quickly appointed skipper by boss Alex Murphy, said: “I’ve many treasured and exciting memories of my time at St Helens and since arriving in this country
“I’ve been able to meet many of my old pals, including Bernard Dwyer, Paul Loughlin and big John Harrison, and before my wife and I return home we are hoping to go down to Wales for a reunion with my former Welsh club mate Jonathan Griffiths and also take the opportunity to visit other parts of the country.”
He added: “I’ve a strong affinity with the town of St Helens - my two sons were born here - and while this is my first visit to these shores since I hung up my boots and returned home, I hope is isn’t the last.”
During his time at Saints, Cooper wrote his name in the club record books, scoring six tries in a 64-2 victory over Hull FC in February 1988, equalling the feat of Steve Llewellyn, Alf Ellaby, Tom Van Vollenhoven and Frank Myler.
He was also a County Cup and John Player Trophy winner, as well as suffering the heartbreak of Wembley defeats against Wigan in 1989 and 1991 but had the satisfaction of helping the club avenge their Challenge Cup set backs by overcoming the auld enemy 10-4 in the 1993 Old Trafford Premiership Final
“Lifting the trophy in front of 36,595 fans was the highlight of my career at St Helens and it is a memory I will cherish for ever,” said Cooper who made more than 270 appearances and scored 76 tries while wearing the famous Red Vee jersey before bringing down the curtain on his career with a short stint at nearby Widnes.
He had the privilege of playing alongside some talented players at Knowsley Road but puts loose forward Chris Arkwright at the top of the tree.
“Chris was the most influential player in my time at St Helens,’’ said Cooper. “He was skilful, as well as strong, but I also enjoyed playing with Roy Haggerty and I was saddened when I learned he had passed away recently.
“You always got 100 per cent from Roy and his commitment could never be questioned.”
Neither is the Kiwi, who earned 12 caps for his country, envious of the modern day Rugby League stars - even though admitting he would have loved pitting his skill and wits against them.
“Today’s game is much faster than in my days, fitness levels are much higher and defences tighter, but I feel we played with a bit more skill and openness which the crowds found extremely entertaining,”