Paul Wellens: The quiet St Helens legend bows out

By Nathan Middleton & Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Paul Wellens
Paul Wellens captained St Helens to Grand Final success in 2014

Few players in any sport can match the achievements of Paul Wellens.

A Great Britain and England international full-back, he played 495 games for his hometown club St Helens and won every available club and individual honour.

In 2006 he was Man of Steel - the award for the best player in Super League - while he won the Lance Todd Trophy (twice) and Harry Sunderland Trophy for his individual performances in major domestic finals.

He was also Super League's record appearance maker until recently being overtaken by Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield.

2014: Wellens proud of appearance record

They are huge accolades for a quiet man who dedicated his career to one club, and who has announced his retirement at the age of 35 because of a hip problem.

A Saints fan growing up, Wellens was on the terraces at Knowsley Road supporting his hometown club long before wearing the famous red V.

"I first walked through the doors of the club in 1996 and played in the juniors," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"If you'd have told me then I would be stood here just shy of 20 years later and enjoyed the amount of success I've had, you would just never have believed it.

"It's been a phenomenal time and I couldn't ask for any more."

A down-to-earth player who seemed able to get on with anyone, Wellens did not have an agent throughout his whole career.

Instead, he negotiated his own contracts.

A man who stood alongside him in the heart of battle for 11 years at St Helens was forward Paul Sculthorpe, who played against some of the best players in the world at club and international level.

"He was phenomenal," Sculthorpe, 37, told BBC Sport. "He's in the top three players that I've played with, if not number one.

Paul Wellens
Wellens won 12 major trophies during his 17-year stay at St Helens

"Consistently he was very, very good, always playing at the same standard year in year out, week in week out. He was clinically outstanding all the time.

"His knowledge [was his great asset]. The thing about 'Wello' was people said he lost his pace. He was never the quickest full-back, but where he is quick is upstairs, he'll put himself in the right position and very rarely made errors."

A degenerative hip injury has forced Wellens to retire and he will undergo a major operation to fix it. He has been struggling to even kick a ball around with his son in the garden.

Wellens is joining a Saints' coaching staff that also contains former team-mates Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long.

Asked to pick a highlight from his glittering playing career, Wellens said last season's Grand Final win at Old Trafford - his final match as captain.

Archive: Wellens scores for Great Britain in 2006

"People saw from my reaction at the end what it meant to me," he said.

"That victory wasn't about one year, it was about losing the Grand Final five years on the run [2007-2011], moving to Langtree Park and a few difficult years trying to get the squad back up to the standards that we know and expect.

"It was kind of a long journey, so to get back to the top of the tree was phenomenal."

Reaction to Wellens' retirement

Leeds forward Jamie Peacock on Twitter: "Best full-back in @SuperLeague era @pwello80. A champion player. A man of true character and values. Loved being a team mate of his with GB."

Former St Helens head coach Nathan Brown: "When you ask me about 'Wello' three things stand out - his toughness, will to win and leadership qualities."

St Helens captain Jon Wilkin: "There is no one who has given his time and done more off the field for St Helens and the sport than him. He has contributed so much and given up so much for other people."

Manchester City (the team he supports) on Twitter: "Shout out to @pwello80, retiring @Saints1890 legend - hope to see you at the Etihad Stadium next season."

Wigan Warriors on Twitter: "Best of luck to @pwello80 in his retirement. Always a fierce competitor in the @Saints1890 shirt & one of the greats of the @SuperLeague era."

Former QPR midfielder Joey Barton on Twitter: "The word 'Legend' is used far too much in modern day sport but for Paul Wellens it is completely justified. Enjoy retirement @pwello80."