Knowsley Road’s playing surface glistens pristine emerald green beneath the floodlights, its glossy look heightened no doubt by two-months of more or less continuous northern downpour.
Bedecked in its engage Super League finery, with decals and pitch markings the place looks splendid. It’s a half hour to kickoff in the final competitive rugby league game to be played in a stadium that has been around for 120 years.
Well-worn stands are filling slowly with spectators. Outside the legendary Crispy Cod is enjoying its busiest night for years, with the queue stretching 20 metres down Knowsley Road. I recommend they source a mobile outlet for the opening of the Saints new stadium. A game without their cheery service and cholesterol-scaring Fish supper will hardly seem the same.
Already the realisation that next season must be spent at our neighbour’s home, Halton Stadium, is beginning to dawn like a gloomy lamp on a damp landing. It doesn’t sit right and next year may be a transition year for this team; coinciding as it does with the retirement of talismanic skipper and hooker, Keiron Cunningham.
To some of the youngsters gazing on from the Paddock, it must seem as if Cunningham has been around as long as the bricks and mortar of the stadium. One of the last survivors of the pre-Super League, winter rugby, era, Cunningham well deserves the statue that will grace Saints’ new home.
Perhaps it is fitting then that we say goodbye to both venerable legends on one glorious September evening.
Inevitably, perhaps, it was Cunningham who steadied Saints nerves and turned the tide, when all the momentum was with the Giants. His massive hit after returning to the field early in the second-half, with Saints trailing for the first time in the game, was a pivotal moment.
From there the home forwards gradually took command, James Graham and Tony Puletua playing big parts as the home team turned a 22-18 deficit into a 42-22 win.
Who would bet against Cunningham completing the final chapter in the season, and in his own playing career, by popping-up with the winner in next week’s engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford?