ONE of the great characters of 1970s rugby league, Eric Hughes, the enigmatic number nine, has passed, aged 73.

A product of the Blackbrook amateur club, he first came to prominence during a Challenge Cup game for the famous amateur club against York at Knowsley Road in 1967.

“Signed from Saints ‘B’ five feet eleven inches and 13 stones,” said the programme notes, which also praised his ability to tackle players well above his weight and his excellent work rate.

He was originally taken on board by Widnes, making his debut on 28th August 1967 against Warrington and played 41 matches for the Chemics, his last on 26th August 1970 against Leeds. Saints signed him in the early 1970s, as much-needed cover for the hooking role.

He made his debut at Whitehaven, no place for the feint hearted, when Saints beat the home side by 15-8. The pack that day was: Graham Rees, Eric Hughes, Cliff Watson, John Mantle, Eric Chisnall and Kel Coslett. Incidentally, the substitutes were Geoff Pimblett and Kel Earl.

This Is Lancashire:

A man who clearly loved playing rugby league and a genuine character, he was a capable striker in the scrums, with an excellent work rate – a good addition to what was a powerful squad at Knowsley Road at the time. Eric made 15 full appearances, together with three ‘unused’ matches on the bench, the last against Whitehaven on 30th March 1973.

His final on-field appearance was against Leeds, three days before, on 27th March. Saints won 19-12 [a storming match, incidentally] and the forward pack is listed as: Jon Stephens, Tony Karalius, Mick Murphy, Eric Chisnall, Mel James and Kel Coslett. Eric was on the bench with Alan Gwilliam, initially.

Clearly Eric was un-fazed with the status of the opposition and he was a valued squad member.

Eric was snapped up by Leigh for a £750 fee Leigh from Saints for a £750 fee in late November 1974 and made his debut at New Hunslet on 1st December 1974, when Leigh lost 8-20.

Former Saints’ players Eddie Cheetham [coach] and Tony Barrow [assistant coach] were in place to greet him!

Alas it was a difficult time for Eric at Leigh, especially when Kevin Ashcroft was signed also in the hooking role. He played a total of 14 games for the Hilton Park club, and he has the Leigh Heritage Number #843. His last match was at Bradford on the final day of the final day of the 1976-77 season. He played a total of 14 games for the Hilton Park club, and he has the Leigh Heritage Number #843.

A plumber by trade, although he became a capable joiner and builder, during the series of Open Days at the Totally Wicked Stadium last year, we were delighted to see Eric and present him with his Saints’ Heritage Certificate [#869]. He was absolutely thrilled and went on to regale us all with some marvellous memories of his playing days. One lovely man, for sure.

His wife, Ann, was a tower of strength during his recent illness and relates that on 19th August, Eric would have been 74 and they were to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. Their children include Caroline and the twins David and Claire and 7 grandchildren – all keen on sport.

Everyone at St Helens RFC extend their condolences to Eric’s family at this sad time.