Paul Wellens is one of that rare breed – Kevin Sinfield at Leeds Rhinos is another – and news this week of his retirement was a sombre moment, if not inevitable.
A one-club man, Wellens won every club and individual honour going since he made his senior debut as a raw teenager in 1998.
With the likes of Paul Sculthorpe, Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long, Saints would go on to become a dominant force in Super League.
His medal haul included five Challenge Cups, five Grand Finals and two World Club Challenges and he was named Man of Steel in 2006 and also claimed the prestigious Lance Todd and Harry Sunderland Trophy man-of-the-match awards.
His record of 439 Super League appearances was recently beaten by Leeds captain Sinfield and he finishes on 199 tries in Super League.
But at the age of 35, and with memories of leading Saints to their 14-6 Grand Final win over Wigan last October still fresh in his memory, Wellens finally admitted defeat to a long-standing hip injury.
The full-back will have major surgery on his hip after admitting it had left him struggling to do even the most simplest of tasks.
“It was an extremely tough call to make but ultimately it’s the right one,” an emotional Wellens told a press conference at Langtree Park.
“My quality of life has been affected by the injury and common sense has to prevail.
“I’ve exhausted every avenue in a bid to get myself fit and the club could not have done more for me.
“I had injections last year to get through it – which was more than worth its while when you consider what we achieved – but in the early stages of this year I started to struggle with it again and that culminated with me leaving the field at Wigan on Good Friday.
“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,” said Wellens, who won 20 caps for Great Britain and also played 11 times for England.
“I will now have substantial surgery on my hip as it is having an effect on my quality of life. 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 and focus on the next stage of my life,” added Wellens, who will join the Saints coaching staff.
Saints chairman Eamonn McManus added: “Paul goes down as one of the greatest players and leaders in the history of the club. He has won every honour in the game, and more, during his staggering 17 years of success with the Saints.
“In particular, I would point out his captaincy years. He assumed this at a very challenging time for the club when we had lost a number of world-class players who had either retired or had left the club and at a time when we had the disruption of a year playing at Widnes and then a move to a new home in St Helens.
“He drove the team and the club forward and into a new era which started with a remarkable Grand Final win against the odds at Old Trafford last year.”
He added: “The emotion etched on his face at the end of that triumph will forever be remembered.”