Apollo Perelini by Dave Dooley: This genial Samoan whose birth-date coincided with the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon certainly graced the Saints with some out of the world performances. Apollo was given the nickname `The Terminator` after exercising some bone-crunching tackles whilst playing international rugby union. His tough performances certainly caught the eye of the professional ranks and St Helens RFC in particular. Perelini was signed in the summer of 1994 and soon willingly embarked on his transformation to one of the greatest ever forwards to play at Knowsley Road. He came on as a substitute to make his debut against Workington Town at Derwent Park as the Saints prevailed by 30 points to 25. His starting debut came as a baptism of fire as the Saints faced up against Australia on November 1st., 1994. The 32 points to 14 loss was the club`s best performance against the tourists for many years. Apollo`s talents were evident from this outing even though he donned the number 13 jersey that day. He was very strong taking the ball forward, with a good pair of hands and, of course, a magnificent tackler. His dedication to fitness, healthy lifestyle and mature professional approach were the vital ingredients of a happy and successful career in rugby league.
At the commencement of the 1995/6 season, the Saints were building towards the Super league era at this time and Apollo was very much characteristic of a side that was assembled to attack the opposition. He had matured and his dedicated training had sculptured a superb physique with considerable speed for a forward. Although the side wasn`t winning any trophies their potential was there for all to see. The truncated centenary campaign of 1995/6 was very much a final training session for the full professional era. The measure of the quality of a St Helens side is how well it performs against its deadly rivals from Wigan. In the third game of the season Saints were thrashed by the Riversiders by 52 points to 20 at Knowsley Road. With the recruitment of Paul Newlove and the maturation of other personnel, by the end of the campaign Saints were running Wigan close in a tightly fought Regal Trophy Final, that saw Apollo have a storming game at prop. Earlier in the same competition he had scored a superb brace of tries in the 38 points to 26 win at Hull and followed that up with another superlative double in the 80 points to nil semi-final win over the Wire. Ten tries from 20 matches in that campaign indicated how much Apollo had matured in attack.
The 1996 season for Apollo was so successful and memorable that it would be easy to overlook his fantastic work-rate in both attack and defence. Nevertheless, Saints supporters would remember three golden moments for Apollo which were so pivotal in the success of that inaugural Super League season. Saints preparations for the Challenge Cup run under Shaun McRae went without a hitch apart. In the quarter final match at the Willows, Saints blew away the Salford challenge by b46 points to 26. A defining moments in the cup campaign came when Aopllo received the ball inside his own half. A powerful burst scattered the Reds defence as Apollo sped away from the hapless three-quarters to the amazement of live and armchair supporters alike. It was the nailing of a `Wanted Poster` on Super League Headquartes – that is the Saints were wanting trophies! The power of Apollo Perelini was then on hand to star in a feast of attacking rugby which saw Saints prevail by 40 points to 32 in one of the greatest Challenge Cup Finals of all time. The game ebbed and flowed dramatically up to the last few minutes when Apollo`s killer punch finally domesticated the gallant Bradford Bulls. After a roller coaster of a scintillating match, in which Saints had overcome a record 14 points deficit to lead by 34 points to 32 and the match very much in the balance, a typical crossfield run 15 metres from the Bradford line by captain Bobbie Goulding resulted in a reverse pass to the charging Samoan. Apollo was unstoppable as he brushed aside two desperate attempted tackles to dive over near to the posts.Who would ever forget Apollo`s prayer of thanks and praise after the score as his team-mates were overcome with joy. The honour of delivering such a critical and decisive was never more deserved in the history of the game.
So often such moments and accolades are captured by a last minute goal-kick or a winger squeezing out a try by the corner post. No one would have believed that another lightning would strike a prop forward twice in the same season. At the conclusion of the season Saints were faced with a tough programme of four away fixtures on the bounce prior to three home matches to round off the Championship. Saints at the time were one point ahead of deadly rivals Wigan. The pundits rightly reckoned that the Saints needed a clean sweep of victories to become Super League Champions. The first match featured another stunner from Apollo that he started from his own half with a block-bursting run; then fabulous support play saw Perelini on hand to receive a timely inside pass and score behind the posts. This effectively killed the game as Saints rattled up 54 points against the Bears with sore heads. The ultimate challenge however was the following week as all of Wigan were praying that Saints would come unstuck against the London Broncos. In a titanic struggle the lead changed hands several times as the Saints desperately tried to keep in the match as the Cockneys led by 28 points to 26 with the clock running down. Thirteen metres from the London tryline Karle Hammond provided Apollo with a pass which he received in a stationary position. Perelini propelled himself through three tackles and was swamped by Broncos defenders as he crossed the line. With no vacant acreage beneath him to plant the ball conventionally, Apollo twisted onto his back and somehow grounded the ovoid over his shoulder. The video referee viewed the grounding for seemingly an eternity before awarding a touchdown. “Other players asked me if it was a try. Basically I knew it was a try. The boys knew I was honest and I gave an honest answer,” remarked Apollo in an after the match interview. For many this was the defining moment of the 1996 Championship winning campaign.
The 1997 season saw Apollo and the Saints return to Wembley for a repeat victory over the Bradford Bulls. Perelini had scored a crucial try in the fourth round match against Wigan when Saints had to play the majority of the match with just 12 men. By this time Apollo was entrenched in the Saints set—up with consistently strong games in both attack and defence. This form was carried on through the next two campaigns and in 1999 Apollo was joint top of the Appearances chart alongside Kieron Cunningham. This stability helped the Saints weather a mid season blip in form to register over 1000 points in the league finishing the campaign in second place behind Bradford. Apollo`s power was in evidence in the play off victories over Leeds and Castleford as the Saints booked a date of destiny with the Bulls in the second Grand Final at Old Trafford. Perelini was a cornerstone of the side which resisted the Bradford advances and came back to overcome the rugged Bulls defence to snatch a victory by 8 points to 6 in the last stanza of the game.
Apollo`s last season was also to end in glory. His attacking prowess was still in evidence as demonstrated in the 50 points to 30 victory over Huddersfield Giants when Perelini helped himself to a notable brace of touchdowns. His fairy tale finale was in the 2000 Grand Final against the old enemy at Old Trafford. In a pulsating game Apollo ended his Saints` career as a winner. His second Grand Final ring was collected after a dominant 29 point to 16 win over Wigan. In 193 appearances for the club, Apollo grabbed 44 tries (fifth on the all-time list for Saints` props). He was a man and player who commanded immense respect from all who had the pleasure to play with him or even meet him!
Apollo was warmly welcomed back to the club in 2004 when he was appointed fitness conditioner. His presence greatly helped the team to bond well as a unit as well as maintain fitness through the campaign that included a fine Challenge Cup Final victory over Wigan in Cardiff.
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