Neil Thomas Holding by Dave Dooley: Neil Holding was a mainstay of the Saints side in the turbulent years of the 1980`s decade. He made his debut as a sixteen year old on the 23rd of October 1977 against Swinton. Neil made an immediate impact with a well taken try. Early observers likened his speed off the mark to that of the mercurial Alex Murphy. The other features of his play that would emerge over time were an ability to make and support a break, great tactical kicking, place kicking and dropping a goal at a crucial points in matches. In his first season he scored three tries in three matches with a brace coming on as a substitute against Wakefield Trinity.
When Neil joined the Saints were very much in a transitional period with a host of young junior talent and some experienced stalwarts in the twilight of their careers. The golden period of the seventies were coming to an end and the club`s fortunes were about to decline in the early years of the 1980s. At the time Saints had other players who could play in the number seven berth. The likes of Ken Gwilliam, Steve Peters and Johnny Smith were all able half backs in their own right. A highlight of this period was in the match against Castleford in the 1979/80 season when Neil scored a blistering hat trick against the Yorkshiremen. Eventually Neil made the scrum half berth his own and by the 1982/3 campaign he was virtually an ever-present in the side. The versatility of Neil was illustrated in an away match at Featherstone that very season. In a tough encounter Neil scored a try, kicked six goals and dropped two goals as well as tormenting the Rovers` defence with his breaks and tactical kicks. At the end of that season Neil, had scored a career best 138 points comprising 12 tries, 47 goals and 8 drop goals. This form resulted in Neil being selected for the 1984 Tour down under where he forced his way into a resurgent Great Britain side that competed well with the opposition.
Neil was up to his old tricks in the 1983/4 season as he topped the Saints` try scoring charts with a creditable 19 tries. This haul included braces against Rochdale, Hull and Leigh. Neil and his contemporaries were rewarded for a hard apprenticeship in the 1984/5 season. The signing of Mal Meninga and Phil Veivers sent a tsunami of optimism through the town and filled the team with confidence for the 1984/5 campaign. Under the astute direction of coach Billy Benyon, Neil and the Saints mounted their assault on the game`s prizes. Meninga`s presence inspired great confidence in the team and Barrie enjoyed his best ever season with the Saints. His first honour with the first team came in the momentous Lancashire Cup Final when a sparkling team performance defeated the old foe in their own backyard. In a season which saw Saints score 1267 points in all matches, Neil netted 17 tries with some sizzling finishes which included a hat trick against Workington Town. He collected winners` medals in the Lancashire Cup Final and the Premiership Final. Moreover, he drove the backs and launched many an attack which resulted in tries galore for the Saints` backs. In the latter final who will ever forget the Holding break which set up the try for Barrie Ledger in the last minute of the match?
In the mid eighties Neil was playing his best rugby and at the heart of the Saints` attacking machine. He always played with a cheeky smile on his face. Along with Barrie Ledger he scored 4 tries in the 1986 Lancashire Cup demolition of Carlisle and in the same season scored braces of tries against Wigan, Hull, Bradford and Halifax. Saints were on the crest of a wave which crashed on the shore with the one point defeat by Halifax in the 1987 Challenge Cup Final. The following season however a one point margin was to be in Saints favour as Saints defeated Leeds by 15 points to 14 in the 1988 John Player Cup Final. Although many will recall the brilliant performance of Paul Loughlin it was Neil`s drop goal that separated the sides at the end of eighty minutes. In the same season Neil gave a brilliant solo performance with a hat trick in the home league match against Leeds. He scored one of his flagship tries chipping the ball over the defence and then winning the race for the touchdown. Sadly on that occasion the Saints went down by 28 points to 23. At the end of his thirteenth season at Knowsley Road Neil had made 343 appearances (21st.) scoring 145 tries(13th), kicking 84 place-kicks (38th.) and dropping 44 goals (2nd) for an aggregate of 739 points (17th). These contributions position Neil in the elite band of players at Knowsley Road.
Neil`s face and personality have been an almost ever-present feature at Knowlsey Road for almost thirty years. In the 1980s he combined playing with being the groundsman at Knowlsey Road. Always a personality on the pitch, Neil`s humour and outgoing nature soon found him regularly in possession of a microphone hosting club events or being the on the field match Master of Ceremonies. His incisive wit has been known to outrage visiting supporters but always delivered in a tongue in cheek scrum half manner.
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