KRIS Radlinski described retiring Saints star Paul Wellens as “a shining light” of the Super League era.
The 35-year-old has called time on his 17-year professional career because of a chronic hip injury.
I am thrilled to call him a mate of mine and I know that we will share some good memories over a few beers in the coming yearsKris Radlinski
Wigan rugby manager Kris Radlinski had some epic duels against Wellens during his own distinguished career as a full-back.
Radlinski said: “On and off the field he has conducted himself superbly well.
“He’s a terrific competitor with an unrivalled knowledge of the game.
“I always enjoyed our a battles in the terrific Wigan- Saints derbies and we always embraced after the game, regardless of who won, showing each other respect.
“He has been one of the shining lights of the Super League era – playing the game how it is supposed to be played, tough but always fair.
“St Helens people should be very proud to call him one of their own. I am thrilled to call him a mate of mine and I know that we will share some good memories over a few beers in the coming years. I expect to welcome him into the MBE Club very soon.”
Wigan No.7 Matty Smith played alongside Wellens when he started his professional career at Saints.
“He took me under his wing, he looked after me and I’m still good mates with him,” said Smith.
“I’m gutted for him, what he’s done in the game speaks for itself, and he’ll be missed by rugby league.
“He read the game better than any full-back I’ve seen, he’s been a great player and he’s an even better bloke.”
Wellens toured Down Under as a coaching assistant with England last year.
“He was fantastic for us,” added Smith. “And the amount of experience and knowledge he has, I’m sure he’ll make a successful transition.”
Revealing the full extent of his battle to play on, Wellens paid tribute to his family and the St Helens fans, and also confirmed he will continue to work with Saints behind the scenes.
“I’ve had an ongoing hip problem for around 12 months and tried my hardest to battle on through,” he said.
“I had injections last year to get through it – which was more than worth its while when you consider what we achieved – but in the early stages of this year I started to struggle with it again and that culminated with me leaving the field at Wigan on Good Friday.”
On his future with the club, Wellens said: “I have a great relationship with Eamonn McManus, Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham. They have been patient with me through this and I am looking forward to further working with them.”
The 35-year-old, who amassed 495 appearances for Saints in an unforgettable career, was eager to credit the people around him.
“I’d like to thank my family, who have been a huge support to me, and my parents, who have been a constant source of support,” he added.