MANY will argue the word legend is overused to describe sportspeople.
A one-off great performance, a memorable try, even a great season are feats sometimes deemed worthy of such high praise.
But there are instances, maybe once in a generation, maybe less, that ‘legend’ is just not adequate enough.
Step forward Paul Wellens.
The lack of surprise behind the announcement of the full-back’s retirement on Wednesday morning does not make the news any less of a blow. But just as fans have come to expect from their longest-serving hero, the 35-year-old’s response to the closing of such a gripping chapter has been honest, gentlemanly, and full of dignity.
“I’d like to thank my teammates who have made my career very special. Win, lose or draw the people you meet, the people you play with make it special and they are friends for life,” he said.
I have met some great people, had great experiences and been in an environment which challenges me. I have played in a great town with great peoplePaul Wellens
“I’ve had a really good career and last season was a real highlight. I have met some great people, had great experiences and been in an environment which challenges me. I have played in a great town with great people.”
Wellens made his Saints debut way back in 1998 against Halifax, and has since become the first name on fans’ all-time line-ups. He amassed 495 appearances, 1,005 points and a trophy cabinet in need of an extra few reinforced shelves.
Since making his Great Britain debut in 1999, Wellens collected 15 Lions caps and 21 for England and won personal accolades including the multiple Lance Todd Trophies, a Harry Sunderland Trophy and the Man of Steel Award in 2006. Wellens has a career to look back on which would be the envy of some of the most celebrated athletes in the world.
Looking back on lifting three Challenge Cups and four Super League titles, as well as two World Club Challenges, he said: “I’ve had a great career and I’m proud of my durability and longevity. I have had some luck with injuries but I’ve also had a really good record with the amount of games I have played.”
This season has seen Wellens battle to play. A degenerative hip condition, which will require major surgery, has limited his time on the field to just four appearances in 2015.
During his last appearance, on Good Friday against Wigan, Wellens was obviously playing in a great deal of pain, and reluctantly left the field having given everything.
“It’s frustrating as I am used to playing but I have not been able to do that,” he said, having been used to being a constant presence in the side during his career.
He continued: “I knew something was substantially wrong there and I want the fans to know I have exhausted every angle possible in trying to find a way to get fit and playing. I still feel I can offer a lot to the club if my body would allow me to but sadly I can’t.
“It is the nature of the sport –I made my debut at 18 and played until 35 so in the grand scheme of things I can’t grumble.”
The weight of the circumstances surrounding Wellens’ retirement is evident in his considerations.
Players are often congratulated on their frankly super-human efforts and the sacrifices they make to entertain their fans.
The cost of Wellens’ dedication to the cause is huge. Most people will never have to come close to considering the impact of their future quality of life because of their work.
But he will continue to grace the club with his passion and expertise in a new capacity – and will undoubtedly continue to be a priceless asset. “I will now have substantial surgery on my hip as it is having an effect on my quality of life,” he said. “Small things like being able to kick a football around with my son, I can’t do that so I have to get it right.”