Born in St Helens, Lancashire in 1973, #Steve Prescott had always been a talented sportsman growing up. He found his niche playing rugby league and football, even having a trial for Liverpool FC before he opted for the former. One could say that Rugby League ran in his blood; his father, Eric Prescott, had a 16-year career in the game, playing for St Helens - where Steve would later make his name - Salford and Widnes. Steve - like his father back in 1968 - began his career at his hometown club St Helens, signing from amateur side Nutgrove in 1992.

St Helens

Although standing at an average 5 foot 10 (178 cm), Steve was initially deemed to be too small to make a career in the game, but, after impressing for Saints' reserve side, he made his debut in September 1993 and went on to make 15 appearances in his maiden season with the club.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Primarily playing as a winger, he did deputise for the then full-back Dave Lyon; it was a position that Steve would soon make his own.

The following season, Steve would be Saints' first-choice No.1, forcing Lyon into the centres. And, in December 2004, his performances earned him a new four-year contract, which he signed just a couple of days after scoring his first career hat-trick in a 50-22 victory against Batley in a Regal Trophy tie. The 1994-95 season as a whole saw Steve burst onto the scene in dramatic fashion, scoring 20 tries in 34 appearances and truly establishing himself as one of the Saints' best players.

Prescott went from strength to strength at his hometown club, winning his first piece of silverware during Super League's inaugural season in 1996 as the league championship became St Helens' after a 21-year drought.

Advertisements

Prescott - and the Saints - didn't stop there, as the Challenge Cup returned to Knowsley Road in 1996, with Prescott scoring two tries in the first seventeen minutes of the final to defeat their opponents, Bradford Bulls, 40-32.

His St Helens career appeared to be winding down though as, at the start of the next season, he was transfer listed at his own request after failing to negotiate an improved contract. 'Precky' - the endearing nickname he acquired along his career - the ultimate professional, remained in the first-team, willing to give his all despite being, reportedly, one of the lowest-paid players in the team. And, he and Saints reaped the rewards, as they retained the Challenge Cup, yet again triumphing over the Bradford Bulls.

Steve's season was however plagued by injury, and on 25 July 1997, he played what would be his last game for the club in a 70-6 thrashing by World Club Challenge opponents Auckland Warriors (now the New Zealand Warriors). His time at St Helen's was arguably the pinnacle of his career.

Advertisements

He played 117 games for the club, scoring 52 tries and kicking 66 goals and, most importantly, his performances in a Saints shirt had earned him two England caps in 1996. Although English-born, Steve would later switch allegiances to Ireland - qualifying because of the grandparent rule - and play in the 2000 World Cup, notching up 38 points in four games for the Wolfhounds.

Switch to Humberside

.In November 1997, Super League's newest side, Hull Sharks, promoted after winning the First Division Championship title, signed Prescott along with team-mates, Alan Hunte and Simon Booth, for a combined transfer fee of £350,000. With the Black-and-Whites, 'Precky' made 40 appearances, scoring 15 tries and kicking 60 goals over the period of two seasons. However, with the Hull club in financial difficulty and near the bottom of the table, Steve, after missing two months of the 1999 season with a dislocated elbow, left when his contract expired at the end of that year.

West Yorkshire comes calling

Wakefield Trinity was the next club to snap up the talented full-back ahead of the 2000 season. However, as financial problems once more affected the club where he was plying his trade at, he would play only 25 times for Wakefield, scoring three tries and kicking 13 goals. In a greatly controversial move, Trinity terminated his contract to ease the club's financial problems. After returning once more to Hull, he and 11 other former Trinity players took the club to an employment tribunal where they claimed unfair dismissal. The group - which included former greats Bobbie Goulding and Tony Kemp - won the case and were awarded a total of £150,000 in compensation.

Hull round two

Steve, this time, settled in Hull and became an ever-present for the Airlie Birds, registering 179 points in his first season back on Humberside in just 26 games. Although Steve was a consistent performer for Hull in his second season at the club, he could only muster a disappointing 38-point haul despite playing 21 games. Precky, would, however, save his greatest season-haul for his last year in the game. His 2003 season opened with a bang as Prescott scored a brilliant hat-trick in Hull's opening Super League fixture against former club Wakefield Trinity - a feat which undoubtedly made Steve smile given his rough treatment by the West Yorkshire club.

Precky went on to make 19 cup and league appearances for Hull in his second spell, registering a remarkable 216 points. However, in a cruel twist of fate, just two weeks after signing a new two-year deal with the Airlie Birds, Prescott played his last game in Super League, bowing out with a 20-point haul as Hull demolished Wakefield Trinity 44-4. It would be his last appearance in Super League as, when representing Lancashire a week later, Steve, unfortunately, suffered a career-ending knee injury. At just 30 years old, and seemingly reclaiming his early-career form, the terrible news brought down the curtain on one of the sport's greats far too early. Amassing nearly 1000 points throughout his career, Steve was the ultimate professional wherever he lay his hat. And, even when treated with, what was effectively contempt by his employers, he never lost sight of his desire to play the sport nor his passion for Rugby League.

Health

Just three years after his retirement, the news that Prescott had been diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer and was given months to live rocked, not just Steve and his family, but the whole Rugby League fraternity. It was news greeted with a gasp of shock and disbelief. A once healthy, thriving Rugby League player had received the worst piece of news anyone could ever be given. Merely weeks after the diagnosis, Steve underwent a major operation in Basingstoke Hospital in which tumours were removed from his abdomen. After surgery, Steve was then transferred to The Christie Hospital in Manchester for chemotherapy treatment to try to control the remnants of the disease.

Changing lives

Precky would have been forgiven for wanting to play out the rest of his life in quiet, surrounded by his close family and friends. But, Steve - ever the optimist - had other ideas. In August 2007, he created the Steve Prescott Foundation after being a Guest of Honour at a Wigan Supporters versus St Helens Supporters Charity Rugby League match.

The game signified the starting point of the Foundation, with two organisations close to his own heart benefiting from the multitude of money-raising initiatives he would help organise. The first would be The Christie - The Christie Hospital is in Manchester where Steve was treated and is one of Europe's leading cancer centres - and the second TryAssist - which aims to support players whose lives are affected by serious injuries whilst playing the game they love.

The Foundation's first major event was a 199-mile walk, beginning in Hull and finishing at Old Trafford, Manchester, just in time for the Grand Final. Along the route, 13 Rugby League clubs were visited with a massive £60,000 being raised. Steve's initiative brought Rugby League fans together; supporters from rival clubs walked side by side with each other for the cause, with 12 supporting Steve for the full distance. Having only just finished his first, aggressive course of chemotherapy, it proved difficult for Steve.

Yet sheer grit, determination, plain stubbornness and the great camaraderie of friends and supporters to push him on to the end, ensured the walk was completed. Since that moment, countless activities have been held to raise money - which led to him being awarded an MBE in 2009 - with a variety of inspiring ideas from, most recently, "I'm a Precky Fan...Get Me Out of Here" to the climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro by 40 people. And, by the time of his death in October 2013, the Foundation had raised over half a million pounds. His status within the game was huge; so much so that a small group of people started a campaign to get the Man of Steel Award- the most prestigious honour in English Rugby League - to be renamed after Steve. The RFL, in the face of relentless pressure, agreed, and, on 5 March 2014, the RFL announced that the Man of Steel award would be renamed after Prescott.

All of Rugby League mourned his passing. Not only was he a great player, but he was a gentleman and played the game as it should be played. A true hero, the fund-raising work that he started and which has been carried on in his much-revered name, has changed the lives of thousands and perhaps, in the future, the Steve Prescott Foundation could well benefit the lives of millions. Four years since his passing, the hole has not and cannot be filled, but, with the Foundation, his legacy can live on forever.

#RugbyLeague #bbcrl