“To this day, people tell me how disappointed they are with me for stepping in and not letting them go at it.”

Either side of Billinge Hill, people will wake up this Good Friday with a void in their lives.

For the first time this millennium, the bank holiday festivities do not include the latest instalment of rugby league’s great rivalry.

St Helens and Wigan have become synonymous with Good Friday. Two of the great powerhouses of rugby league have engaged in battle annually for over two decades. For many, it is a lifetime tradition.

Paul Wellens’ memories vary, from the terraces of Knowsley Road and Central Park as a fan to the battlefield wearing the red vee.

“The Easter period is synonymous with Saints Wigan, is has been throughout my whole life,” he said.

“It’s a very surreal experience to not be preparing for it. In times like this, when you don’t have it, you appreciate it a little bit more.”

Over the years, the game has provided some memories to last a lifetime; Wigan’s underdog victory in 2003 and Liam Farrell’s last-gasp winner in 2011 are among the days Wellens would rather suppress.

But the most unforgettable memory across rugby league’s fanbase is the great battle of 2004.

The match itself was a classic, a 21-all draw between two fine teams, but it is remembered for an all-in, 26-man brawl that erupted in the second-half and culminated in two of the game’s greats, Andy Farrell and Paul Sculthorpe, standing toe-to-toe in one of the most iconic images of the Super League era.

Stood in the middle of the two? A 24-year-old, slight fullback by the name of Paul Wellens.

“It was weird at the time because I’d known Faz from playing with him at international level,” Wellens recalls.

“I just put myself in between them to calm them down. The fight actually started through Jon Wilkin and Terry Newton, then everyone came in and it ended with Faz and Scully locked together. There was a lot around Faz and Scully, but Faz had actually taken exception to Dom Feaunati, because he’d run in and unloaded on Stephen Wild.

“I was putting myself between them to defuse it. To this day, people tell me how disappointed they are with me for stepping in and not letting them go at it.

“People forget that nobody was red-carded, I think if that happened today everyone would have left the field.

“But it had everything as a game, 2004, it’s the game that stands out. It had everything, unbelievable rugby league, a load of controversy, it was toing and froing, and the players on show, you had a whole host of local lads. It just had everything, it was an unbelievable time to play in those games. Radlinski, Farrell, Newton, O’Connor, to test yourself against those guys was just incredible.

“Then there was myself, Keiron Cunningham, Longy, Scully, Chris Joynt was the captain at that time. Sean Long and Chris Joynt were Wigan lads growing up. Albeit playing in the Saints team, they understood the rivalry.”

On the field, the rivalry was unlike anything else. Off it, however, Wellens insists that hatred resulted in a deep-lying feeling of mutual respect.

“It was often about getting the best of your opposition as an individual, and the ultimate challenge was to take on Kris Radlinski.

“I used to always love going up against Kris, you knew you had to play your best rugby.

“The funny thing now, now I reflect back on it, is that some of the best friendships from rugby are born out of that rivalry. It’s certainly in the case of Kris, he is someone I value very highly. We have great respect for each other and I enjoy his company. Out of that rivalry we’ve got a healthy respect for each other.

“You hate each other for 80 minutes on the field but then it changes. That’s important and how it should be.”

16 years on, Wellens now watches from his vantage point as part of the Saints coaching staff. While nostalgia often leads many to believe the rivalry, or the game itself, isn’t what it once was, Wellens insists the intensity is as fierce as ever.

“When you’re a player you’re fully immersed in it, you don’t see anything else, you’re fully focused on it.

“Now I’m on the coaching staff, I would say the players see it exactly the same as we did in ’04, and those before us.

“It’s a rivalry that has stood the test of time and will do for years and decades to come.”