It can’t just be me who refuses to believe it’s been 7 years since LMS pulled on the famous red vee. That’s right, despite it feeling like only yesterday, in 2011 the cockney ‘honey-monster’ travelled north, leaving behind his former employers Harlequins in order to begin his St Helens career.
One thing I’ve learned about the lovable rogue, is you either love him or hate him, the human marmite if you will. Me? Despite me hating marmite, I’d be lying if I said I shared the same sentiment with Louie. He embodies the attitude and determination us fans have watching. Whether you are screaming with delight in the stands or shouting your house down at home, the passion that we have as supporters is alive within LMS. Now, am I saying he is faultless? Not at all, no one is. I’ve been his biggest critic in the past few seasons, but recently I think many have seen improvements in his game. Could it be something to do with a certain aussie coach who has graced our shores recently? Quite possibly.
One thing I am certain of is that with the recent news confirming to all that Louie will remain at the totally Wicked Stadium until the end of 2019 (meaning he will have been a saints for 9 years!), the time has come to look back on his St Helens career.
At the fresh age of 25 and in his inaugural season at the saints, LMS enjoyed a promising 2011 campaign – scoring an impressive 7 trys – which isn’t bad for a forward if I do say so myself. He also managed a total of 625 tackles throughout the entire season, averaging 28 per game – which isn’t too shabby yet again. His debut certainly was a baptism of fire, as he squared off against arch rivals Wigan in the ‘Millennium Magic’ fixture. It didn’t take long for the fans to get behind the forward, the only downside being that his ‘name is too long’.
My personal highlight of his first season was his halfway line break against Huddersfield in which he displayed a fresh pair of heels to go under the sticks! Very impressive for the Saints’ new pack player.
In the 2012 season Louie’s score return wasn’t quite as prolific, as he only managed to bag himself 3 – which compared to the previous year’s tally is disappointing. LMS did however earn himself the number 10 shirt, putting himself amongst a fine list of players who had worn it before him. As well as this personal accolade, he also was part of the first St Helens team to call Langtree Park its home. After a year on the road – with home fixtures being played in Widnes following Knowsley Roads emotional farewell – the Saints finally had their brand new, state of the art rugby league stadium. My memorable moment of LMS in the 2012 season was in the first ever magic weekend game in Manchester. Oh, sorry to those that erased the fixture from your minds, as I know we fell to a dismal 42-16 defeat against Wigan. The reason this game sticks in my mind is that despite a shocking all round display, Louie bagged himself an impressive try on the last tackle as he broke the line and rounded Tomkins to score besides the sticks. He also got himself an assist for Saints’ last try in this game, with a neat offload that put Wellens over.
In 2013 LMS improved on his try scoring exploits of the previous year – managing 5 – but still fell short of his first seasons tally. He enjoyed a steady year but other than a fantastic last minute win against Wigan at Langtree Park, St Helens’ season wasn’t one of the classics. It was the next year, in 2014 that Saints enjoyed the most successful season in recent history. They enjoyed an brilliantly consistent campaign that rewarded them with the league leaders shield – the first piece of silverware to grace the Saints trophy cabinet since 2008’s Challenge Cup trophy. This was triumphed relatively quickly however, as the Saints went on to lift the Grand Final trophy for the first time since 2006! I remember it like yesterday, the elation, the pure happiness, it was the best day of my life. This victory that Saints fans had been wanting for so long after all the years of hurt, was so passionately welcomed. After Hohaia was forced off the field due to injury early on, due to a sending off offence by Ben Flower (the less said about that situation, the better), LMS took Turner’s role at centre to allow him to operate in the halves. For a forward and in a grand final, Louie did himself and the club proud, as he put in a solid display. His passion after the final whistle being a particularly memorable highlight, as after a swearing blunder on television, he paraded around Old Trafford with a bottle of champagne having the time of his life!
The couple of years that followed however didn’t live up to the expectations of many fans. Club legend Kieron Cunningham failed to make a mark in the head coaching role and ultimately departed with Saints worse off than were they had started. I think it was within these seasons – 2015 and 2016 – that some fans grew frustrated with many aspects of St Helens’ play, and when people are frustrated they demand change. LMS I believe was caught up in this, often becoming one of the many scape goats for fans to blame after defeats. I’m not saying he was completely innocent in these situations, but I often found myself in disbelief at what people were saying about our own player. Saying that, I did eventually get frustrated with Louie myself, every now and again. Whether it was the mind numbing rugby clouding my judgement or just jumping on the negative bandwagon, I was often shouting from the side-lines for LMS to ‘stop running sideways’ and to stop ‘messing about at the play the ball’. When I distance myself from that mindset however and look at the facts, Louie wasn’t as bad as I and many others made out. He actually scored a career record tally of 10 trys in 2016. He had however transitioned from prop into a second row/loose forward, making trys more expected.
That brings us to present day. After KC departed, Justin Holbrook took on the head coach hot seat – his first game in charge being a brilliant and surprising 45-0 win at the magic weekend over Hull FC. LMS and a host of other players seemingly had a lot to prove to new coach Holbrook. The question is has he risen to the challenge? I believe yes. Even throughout the difficult KC years, you couldn’t knock his passion and determination. He is always trying his very best and that is a trait that is more valuable than people think. In addition to his effort levels, I believe his performances have vastly improved. His days as a bread and butter prop forward are long gone, but his experience and manoeuvrability will be an asset to the club. It is quite easy to forget he is now one of our senior players and with that comes plenty of knowledge that can be passed on to our young forwards coming through the ranks, such as Matty Lees and James Bentley. His performances in 2017 after Holbrook took charge and his promising start to the 2018 season, certainly merit a 12 month extension, I have no doubt about that.
I know that even amongst St Helens fans there is a division as to whether LMS is ‘good enough’ to wear the red vee, but one thing should take precedent over any criticism you might have – that thing being Justin Holbrook thinks he is doing well and that Justin Holbrook thinks he deserves an extra 12 months. If you’re not going to take my word for it, how about taking Justin’s?