The King of St Helens

MARTYN SADLER reflects on an extraordinary achievement by an extraordinary player and looks at the leading appearance makers at the 12 Super League clubs.


When I was a young boy I used to hear stories about great players who had graced our sport year after year.

Names such as Albert Goldthorpe at Hunslet, Jim Sullivan at Wigan, Brian Bevan at Warrington, Harold Wagstaff at Huddersfield and so on.

My great regret was that there was absolutely no way that I could have seen such legends play the game, so I was happy to take on trust the fact of their greatness.

There was a mystique about those players that isn’t there about players in the modern game.

For the Rugby League fans of 50 years hence, there will be no worries about being able to witness the feats of today’s heroes.

In the year 2100, if we assume that Rugby League is still going strong by then, James Roby’s highlights will be watchable in the various media that may dominate the world at that point.

But I’m still not sure that his achievements will ever be fully appreciated or understood by a wider audience beyond St Helens and Rugby League supporters more generally.

That is partly because of the modesty of the man himself.

For someone who has achieved so much, his demeanour suggests absolutely no inflated ego.

And he doesn’t appear to have a significant presence on social media.

He clearly isn’t the sort of bloke who wants to thrust himself forward ahead of the other members of his team.

But if Rugby League were properly organised, it would have had someone responsible for bringing Roby’s achievement to the attention of the wider public in the build-up to last Saturday’s game, with the climax being his entry to the field flanked by the guard of honour from St Helens and Salford players.

But his achievement seems to have passed most of the national media by.

I was in my car on Saturday afternoon listening to Radio 5Live some time after 5.30pm on Saturday when Mark Chapman, who does such a great job when presenting Rugby League on TV, read out the result of St Helens’ match with Salford but made no mention of Roby’s achievement. I can only assume that no one had told him about it.

When a sport doesn’t effectively promote its greatest practitioners, it is destined not to be successful.

In League Express four weeks ago, I criticised the non-executive directors of the RFL and RLCommercial for not doing much to promote the game and it’s interesting to see that none of them, as far as I’m aware, drew any attention to Roby’s achievement. And neither did IMG, despite their twelve-year partnership with the RFL.

To break the appearance record for any club is an almost impossible feat in the modern day because clubs play far fewer games in the summer era.

If you look at all the other players below who hold the appearance records for English clubs in Super League, the most recent one broken was by John Joyner, who played 613 games for Castleford and ended his career in 1992.

James Roby made his St Helens debut against Widnes on 19 March 2004. Since then he has played in 82.4 per cent of all Saints’ games (thanks to Saints historian Alex Service for that information).

I don’t think we’ll ever see his like again.

If your kids or grandkids have never seen him play live, take them to a St Helens game to see him while you still have the chance, so that they can tell their grandkids one day that they were privileged to have watched a legend.

I would like to wish him all the best for the rest of the season and for whatever comes after that.

It would be very hard to imagine Super League or St Helens without him.

Leading appearance makers – Super League clubs

Castleford: John Joyner 613 (1973-1992)

Catalans Dragons: Remi Casty 337 (2006-2013, 2015-2020)

Huddersfield: Douglas Clark 485 (1909-1929)

Hull FC: Edward Rogers 500 (1906-1925)

Hull KR: Mike Smith 489 (1975-1991)

Leeds: John Holmes 625 (1968-1989)

Leigh: Albert Worrall 503 (1920-1938)

Salford: Maurice Richards 498 (1969-1983)

St Helens: James Roby 532 (2004-2023)

Wakefield: Harry Wilkinson 605 (1930-1949)

Warrington: Brian Bevan 620 (1946-1962)

Wigan: Jim Sullivan 774 (1921-1946)

This article is taken from this week’s League Express. To take out a subscription go to