Eric Marks 50 Year Milestone

TODAY Eric Chisnall marks 50 years with the Saints.

The Hall of Famer signed for the club back in 1966 and went on to play 523 games for the club.

And now, he is helping nurture the talent coming through the Academy as a Mentor.

Eric was a local lad who signed for Saints on December 22, 1966; making his debut for Saints on March 18 1967 against Huddersfield.

His first try for the club came in the 1967 Lancashire Cup Final Replay against Warrington in December of that year. With the teams locked at 8-8 Eric plunged over the ‘Wire’ tryline from a play the ball situation. This score allowed Tom Van Vollenhoven to lift the trophy for the Saints as they finished the game 13-10 winners.

In the following season Eric was virtually an ever-present member of the side. The 1968 Lancashire Cup Final saw a repeat performance as the boys from Knowsley Road completed a record margin win over Oldham by 30-2. Eric roared in for a try that sealed the win over the ‘Roughyeds’.

Eric’s game featured the ability to offload in the tackle – and this was absolutely essential as back then the game was only played with four tackle sets. Chisnall ably demonstrated this part of his game in a wonderfully worked try at the start of the 1970 Championship Final when Saints went on to win 24-12.

Eric was also a very solid tackler and this aspect of his game was required in the 1971 Championship Final when the Saints had to restrict a tremendous Wigan onslaught in the second half.

If you are going to complete a career of more than 500 matches then a player needs to be of top quality and extremely durable in the toughest of all sports. Eric played an incredible 53 matches in the 1971/72 season as Saints pressed for honours in all competitions.

Remarkably, Eric made 24 appearances at prop responding to a situation whereby players had to be flexible with so many fixtures having to be fulfilled. His rock solid performances and numerous breaks brought him 10 tries in that campaign as Saints triumphed in the BBC TV Trophy and the 1972 Challenge Cup at Wembley.

In the latter match, as Saints pressurised the Leeds defence in the first quarter of the match, a crossfield move found ‘Chizzy’ characteristically out wide in the centres. His beautifully timed pass presented Les Jones with a golden opportunity to score in the corner and the Parr flyer duly obliged.

This stretched Saints’ lead and despite constant Leeds pressure, the boys from Knowsley Road were never to surrender their advantage.

Chisnall’s reputation as a fine all round player had already earned him four Lancashire caps by the time he was selected for the 1974 Australasian Tour. The four tests Eric played down under provided him with his only Great Britain caps.

The 1974/75 Championship winning season provided a platform for Eric to return a best ever season total of 12 tries from 41 matches.

His consistent play, safe hands and excellent defence contributed to one of Saints’ best ever league campaigns as they finished top of the league some nine points ahead of nearest challengers Wigan.

The ‘Glory Trail’ continued the following season as the BBC TV Trophy, the Challenge Cup and the Premiership were all won at a canter. Eric Chisnall, at 29 years of age, was one of the younger forwards on view in the 1976 Challenge Cup victory over Widnes.

In the 1976 Premiership win over Salford, Eric stormed onto a ball to weave his way past three defenders to seal the match for the Saints. One year later Saints faced Warrington in the same competition final and ‘Chizzy’ was on hand to help subdue the highly regarded Warrington pack. In this match he was aided and abetted by his brother Dave who had joined the Saints that very season.

After such a glittering career to the end of the 1976/7 season, Eric had managed to avoid major injuries and he had never missed a Saints Final victory. After scoring a try against Dewsbury in the tenth match of the 1977/8 season Eric received a serious injury and was forced to sit out the rest of that campaign.

As the Saints glory team of the 1970s dispersed, Eric remained loyal to the cause and played through to the 1981/82 season as Saints rebuilt their team around a nucleus of young local talent.

He adopted the role of the ‘Elder Statesman’ of the pack alongside George Nicholls as they nurtured the young lads in the team.

Eric then joined Leigh for two seasons – playing 27 games – but never really left his hometown club as he was still actively involved in helping the coaches of the B and C teams.

And that has continued ever since as he’s played an active role nurturing the club’s youngsters and played a vital role in the Academy’s Bi-Annual Tour of Australia having been on all six to date.

Eric said: “When I first signed I had no idea I would be here for so long and I consider myself very lucky to have been here for 50 years. I’ve had some ups and downs but mainly ups!

“It’s good to be able to pass on my knowledge to the younger players and also give them assurances. It is a big progression from Academy to the Reserves and the First Team. It’s good that players want to hear from me as they make that transition and I am more than happy to help out.

“It’s about life skills too. Life can be hard from 16 to 19 years old so I keep an eye on them and steer them on the straight and narrow. I’ve had players do apprenticeships at my business too.”

He continued: “Last season was phenomenal. To go unbeaten and win the Academy Championship was great but it was the way they played that was most pleasing. They had a freedom to play and you could see their development through the course of the year.

“They threw the ball around and played that St Helens way.

“I always say once you leave St Helens you are on a downward spiral as it is the best club there is. I hope I’m around in another 50 years! Unless they want to get rid of me!”

Academy Head Coach Derek Traynor added: “Eric is a fantastic role model for everyone involved with the club. He is a big help to me and the other coaches and is always willing to pass on his knowledge and experience.

“More importantly he is an incredible mentor to the young players in the academy system. He is regularly found in conversation with the players listening to their problems or concerns and putting their minds at rest with some very well thought out advice.

“The players think that much about Eric that they still seek his advice when they go into the first team. Everyone knows Eric for his exploits on the field for saints, but most of the staff and players now at the club know Eric for his work with young players and their development.

“One of Eric’s statements to the young players is you are at the best club in the world and the only way from here is down, so work hard and make a career here. Eric is a true St Helens legend of that there is no doubt.”

Saints CEO Mike Rush added: “On behalf of everyone at the club I’d like to thank Eric for all his service for the Saints; as a player, coach and mentor.

“Eric was part of the staff when I joined the club in 1999 and has been fantastic support to me personally over the last 17 years.”

Thanks to Saints Heritage Society and Dave Dooley for the use of their biography.

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