Rugby league has continued, as ever since the formation of the Northern Union, to be central to the pride of many industrial towns of the north - and none more so than the glass-making town of St Helens near Liverpool. One of the original founding clubs of the game, they have enjoyed enormous success over much of the league’s history. In 2007, after another Saints’ victory at Wembley in the Challenge Cup, the local council publicly acknowledged the club’s contribution. The permanent symbol of that honour would be a statue of the player voted by the people of St Helens. The player chosen was Keiron Cunningham.
Born in St Helens, Cunningham became the coveted number nine, a world class hooker, renowned for his bursting runs and his ability to poach tries from a short distance. He retired in 2010 after a 17-year career with the club and over 400 appearances. During that time, St Helens won five Super League championships, seven Challenge Cup victories and two World Club Challenge titles. His final appearance was also the last match to be played at the club’s famous Knowsley Road ground. And the final try? A typical, bursting plunge over the line by Keiron Cunningham.
His familiar rugged, bursting style, ball tightly under his right arm, is recalled in a nine-feet high statue, first unveiled in 2010 in the centre of St Helens and since moved to a proud position outside the club’s new ground. The statue is a fine reminder that sport can still act as a strong binding force within a community.