As we approach the 150th anniversary date of the founding of St.Helens Rugby Football Club on the 19th of November 1873, the Club is taking a varied and closer look at just some of the storied history of the Saints.
Today, we look at just two wizards of the wing of different eras in the sport – Tom van Vollenhoven and Tommy Makinson.
Let’s start with one of the greatest to ever play for our Club and that is not an over-exaggeration; the only statistic you need to know to prove that is this: in 408 appearances, Tom van Vollenhoven scored 392 tries.
Saints’ all-time leading try scorer is truly in a league of his own with that record that likely will never be beaten, and the South African was our Club and town’s most famous adopted son.
Originally playing rugby union for the Springboks, Tom scored a hat-trick against the touring British Lions in 1955 and very quickly attracted interest in the world of rugby league, with the Saints and Wigan battling to get his signature, but our Club secured his services with the biggest fee paid for a transfer between professional clubs at that time – believed to be over £7,200.
‘Voll’ as supporters came to know him made an incredible impact on the team, with his grace, pace, and deceptive strength, he could fire out of the blocks in an instant and would be vital to a new era of the team.
In his first four years with the Club, he helped secure a Lancashire Cup (1960-61), a League Championship (1959) in the final of which he scored a hat-trick, and a Challenge Cup (1961) beating Wigan in the final and scoring a remarkable try.
The ‘Vollenhoven Effect’ on our club was huge in the late 1950s and 60s, so much so that St.Helens needed to capitalise on it with the building of a new Main Stand. So fittingly when the time came to begin a new era at our modern home away from Knowsley Road – the Totally Wicked Stadium – ‘Voll’ was asked to deliver the first match ball in February 2012.
Now, let’s talk about the modern era and few could argue against Tommy Makinson being the biggest Saints star since we have made the move to our new home.
In 2011 the Saints were sharing Widnes’ home ground for the year awaiting completion of our new stadium, and a young Makinson was drafted to fill in on the right wing following an injury to Ade Gardener. He would also step in for goal-kicking duties after an injury to Jamie Foster. Makinson displayed his maturity at just 19-years-old, an ability to finish tries, and reliability off the kicking tee; he was the example of young players ready to emerge at Saints.
Over the next few years of his early career, Tommy would earn his regular starting spot on the wing and become a human highlight reel for acrobatic finishing in the corner, grounding the ball whilst he was still in the air.
The first of his five Super League titles to date came in 2014 against Wigan, with Makinson getting the game-clinching score in the second half, catching and scoring a high kick from Paul Wellens, who is of course now his Head Coach!
Always consistent, Makinson crossed over the 100 tries and 100 goals scored for the Red V in the years that followed his maiden Grand Final win, but he would prove to be vital to the success that Saints would have.
Makinson’s role changed somewhat in this period under Kristian Woolf, to not just finishing off the scores, but to getting the team going early in the sets – something that is now expected of wingers in the game today. It would not take away from Tommy’s try-scoring prowess though, and he would help his team win the Super League title for four straight years from 2019 to 2022. In amongst that as well, the emotional relief of finally earning a Challenge Cup trophy on his incredible CV, with a trademark Makinson dive lighting up the national stadium in the final.
In the Club’s 150th year, with history being made being the ordinary at this Club, St.Helens went down to Australia to take on the much fancied, heavily favoured NRL back-to-back champions, the Penrith Panthers. Tommy further wrote his legacy into the legend of our Club, being part of the winning team to secure a third World Club Challenge in a seismic victory. The first win by an English team in Australia during the summer era of the sport.
There is no denying that our Club has been blessed with many a great winger over 150 years, but both Tom and Tommy made huge impacts for their teams of the time, and the Club as a whole. In the run-up to the 150th anniversary date, the Club will be asking supporters for their own all-time greatest XIII, and you can bet that plenty of fans will pick these two men in their line-ups…