St Helens make touching tribute to legend Mel James after he passed away

Former St Helens and Wales player Mel James sadly passed away at the age of 74 at the weekend.

James made a number of appearances for Wales including in the 1975 World Cup.

He was also a Great Britain international.

He played against the Eastern Suburbs in 1976 in an unofficial World Club Challenge and tasted Challenge Cup Final success in 1976 which proved to be one of the best years of his career.

Following this St Helens have made a fantastic tribute to James.

It reads as follows:

“Born in Resolven, South Wales – a fact often quoted by the BBC commentator Eddie Waring during televised matches – Melvyn [Mel] James emerged as the iron man in the front row of Saints’ teams in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“Signed from Swansea RU club in October 1972, he operated at both prop and second row in his first season. He made his debut in the number 10 jersey on 13th October 1972 against Bradford Northern, in a 22-8 victory at Knowsley Road. There were three other Welshmen in the starting line-up: Frank Wilson, Roy Mathias and Skipper Kel Coslett, with another, Graham Rees on the bench. Mel had a fine debut, following on from his three-try performance for the ‘A’ team against Oldham the previous week.

“At over 6 feet and 15 stones, Mel was supremely strong, competitive in the scrums and a fierce tackler with the ability to off-load the ball in the tightest of situations. The ex-Swansea captain became a specialist in the hard graft of the ‘first man in’ during a set of six tackles. Yet Mel was to suffer a horrendous broken leg during the 11-7 victory over the touring Australians, in November 1973.

“This cruel blow meant that Mel was side-lined for some 16 months, eventually returning in March 1975, as the Saints were romping to the First Division Championship. Unfortunately, his 9 appearances at the end of the campaign were not enough to secure a winner’s medal. Thankfully full fitness was regained for the 1975-6 campaign, when the Saints picked up three trophies. Mel played in the BBC Floodlit Trophy Final when St Helens defeated Dewsbury 22-2 at Knowsley Road. He was the substitute forward in the 1976 Challenge Cup Final, replacing John Mantle for the last 13 minutes of a lung-bursting clash against Widnes. He was to play a full part in the ‘treble’ bid, shortly after, in the Premiership Final against Salford at Swinton, when his tireless running did much to wear down the opposing pack, paving the way for Saints’ late surge for the trophy.

“St. Helens made it a Premiership ‘double’ celebration in 1977, with a magnificent 32-20 victory over Warrington at Station Road. Saints’ rampant forward pack had laid the platform for success, with Mel James at the top of his form, scoring the final try for his team in typically determined style. He made a second appearance at Wembley in the 1978 classic against Leeds, when Saints’ lighter, more mobile pack struggled to hold their Yorkshire opponents in the last quarter.

“The Saints were re-building during Mel’s last few years at the club, putting faith in a nucleus of young, local talent. For a spell he formed a formidable front row partnership with Geordie prop Paul Grimes which is fondly remembered by Knowsley Road devotees. His toughness was greatly respected by team-mates and opponents alike and he was awarded a well-earned Testimonial in 1982/83. His last match for the club was in the same month and against the same opponents as his debut, Bradford Northern, on 23rd October 1983 at Knowsley Road, when he was on the substitute’s bench with Clive Griffiths, the last of his 321 appearances in the red vee, of which 16 were from the bench. He also scored 41 tries, a fair return for a front-rower too.

“He made his debut for Wales in a World Championship match against England at Warrington in 1975. Although Wales lost 22-16, James always wore the scarlet jersey with pride, making 11 appearances for the Dragons overall. Mel was also selected for the 1979 Lions tour, together with four of his team-mates – Peter Glynn, George Nicholls, Graham Liptrot and fellow-Welshman Roy Mathias. He did not make the Test team but appeared in 13 matches ‘Down Under.’

“Highly regarded by the fans during his time at Knowsley Road, former colliery worker Mel was inducted into the Saints Players Association Hall of Fame on 18th July 2002, together with Jimmy Flanagan and Paul Wellens. Although illness prevented him from attending, members of his family were able to represent him, along with former team-mates Roy Mathias and Steve Bayliss adding their support. A superb display of his memorabilia is also pride of place at his first club Resolven RUFC.

“He was a true stalwart of the Red Vee and everyone at St Helens RFC sends their condolences to Mel’s family at this sad time.”

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