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A wonderful servant for more than 25 years
WOLVES' departed head coach and 2003 Lancashire coach Paul Cullen achieved a first in his own town.
Cullen became the first person to have completed a Warrington triple whammy of having been born in the town, having played for Wire and then having taken on the mantle of being the club's head coach.
When his past roles of club captain, commercial manager, assistant coach and defensive coach are also taken into account, there are few who have had more involvement, passion and influence in Warrington's premier club since its birth in 1879.
His entire professional playing career of 16 seasons - encompassing 350 appearances - was spent at Wilderspool and then in August, 2002, he answered the club's SOS call to take over the coaching reins from David Plange as the threat of relegation hung over the club for the first time in history.
Cullen showed his coaching qualities as he guided a confidence-stricken team to safety and thus maintained the club's crucial Super League status ahead of the work starting on the new Halliwell Jones Stadium for the Wolves.
That, together with his outstanding work in his assistant Lancashire and assistant England A coaching roles in 2002, impressed the right people to gain him the Red Rose top job for the 2003 Origin battle with Yorkshire at Bradford Bulls' Odsal Stadium.
Cullen turned the club's fortunes around by guiding his 2003 breed to the play-offs for the first time. And he continued his England A duties in 2003, helping to steer his country to inaugural European Nations Cup glory in the final against France.
In 2004 Cullen led Wolves to the semi finals of the Challenge Cup, and then in 2006 he guided his men to the club's first play-off victory as massive underdogs against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley, before the Grand Final dream ended against Bradford Bulls at Odsal one game later.
And that was as close as he got to realise his ambition of bringing silverware to a club that has seen none since the Regal Trophy win in 1991.
Last year's campaign was ruined by injuries, while this season - after spending huge money on star overseas talent - has been more cold than hot and ultimately he paid the price on May 26 after a shock home defeat to Super League's bottom club Castleford Tigers.
Looking back, Cullen's Rugby League ability never came to the fore until late into his childhood.
The junior clubs that are dotted all around Warrington now did not exist when Cullen was growing up.
Football was his fad in the early days, when the desire to be a winner - that he so obviously showed as a pro - first became clear. He was a soccer player with Warrington amateur side Fife Rangers in the Hilden League, later to become known as the Warrington Solvay Junior Soccer League. Cullen first played RL seriously when he joined top amateur outfit Crosfields at the age of 16.
He said in Warrington Guardian later in his career: "I was keen on physical fitness and I got to know Ken Gill, who was a pro player, a GB international and a Lion, who ran the Old Ball pub.
"He got me involved at Crosfields and I liked the physical contact and the challenge of the game. There was a real battle to get your body fit enough to play and that interested me."
After only 12 months with the club, Cullen was delighted to be offered a contract by Warrington, signing on November 25, 1980, when he was 17-years-old.
That, in fact, was his mother's birthday.
The next day he pulled on the primrose and blue jersey for the first time when he made his A team debut in a 29-0 victory over Blackpool at Wilderspool.
His first team debut came on August 9, 1981, as a Locker Cup substitute in the season-opening Locker Cup friendly against Wigan. Cullen's official first team debut came at Barrow in the first round of the Lancashire Cup seven days later.
His league debut was also made at Barrow on November 8 of the same year. Ironically, his first try for the first team also came against Barrow on April 25, 1982, at Wilderspool.
Less than two months later, on June 6, he played for Great Britain Colts against Papua New Guinea at Lae and on the same tour went on to face Australia at Lang Park, Brisbane.
His career was in full flow and he gathered a reputation for being a steel-toothed stand off or centre that took no prisoners on the field, no matter how big their build or reputation. His defence was immense and silky handling skills added to his aggressive running style meant he was a handful to cope with in attack too.
On occasions, his aggression went a little too far, he ended up having some early baths and he was to pay the price later by missing out on a Wembley appearance on the only occasion the team reached the Challenge Cup final during his 16-season playing marathon.
Until his forced retirement with a knee injury in 1997 Cullen's name was the first on the team sheet for six successive coaches, mainly in the pack after converting to a back row forward under Brian Johnson's term at the helm.
Why was Cullen so highly regarded? In Cullen's Testimonial brochure of 1990, the then club chairman Peter Higham said: "Although he may not be the classiest footballer, I don't think there are many braver."
Johnson highlighted Cullen's desire to succeed and an enormous desire to win, which enabled him to survive his first 10 years of top flight Rugby League and help him overcome many serious injuries that would have seen the retirement of a player with less mental toughness.
Even Les Boyd, the Australian who came to Warrington with a hard-man reputation, admitted: "I can say in all honesty that I've never met a player as competitive as Paul." Cullen appeared in seven major finals for Wire between 1982 and 1995 and achieved three winners' medals.
His first came in 1982, when he was at stand off in the 16-0 Lancashire Cup defeat of St. Helens at Wigan's Central Park ground.
Perhaps the highest point of his career was helping the 1985/86 team crush champions Halifax 38-10 in the Premiership Play-Off final at Leeds United's Elland Road stadium. He starred in the centre spot on that occasion.
His final medal came at Headingley in 1991, when he played loose forward in the Wire side that edged out Bradford Northern 12-2 in the Regal Trophy final.
Despite his success at Great Britain Colts level, the call for Cullen to step up to senior international level never came.
He did make three appearances for Lancashire. The first came in the right centre position when Lancashire lost 16-10 to Yorkshire at Wigan on September 16, 1987.
That appearance came three days after Paul scored his first hat-trick for Wire in a 42-8 crushing of Oldham at Wilderspool in the first round of the Lancashire Cup.
Next he was left centre to winger Mark Preston when Lancashire were crushed 56-12 by Yorkshire at Wigan on September 20, 1989.
He was a second row substitute for Denis Betts when Lancashire lost 17-12 to Yorkshire at Headingley on September 18, 1991.
Chairman Higham, again in Cullen's Testimonial brochure, felt that Cullen probably missed out on a Great Britain 1988 tour spot down under because of a now famous incident with Wigan international Andy Goodway that occurred on New Year's Day of that year.
The match will be remembered for a stormy opening 20 minutes when four players were sent off and afterwards Warrington coach Tony Barrow described the episode as 'World War Three'.
Second rower Goodway felled Cullen and was sent marching to the tunnel.
As Goodway walked to the tunnel Cullen chased after him and launched himself at the Wigan back rower.
A new brawl erupted and Cullen and Goodway had to be separated before the Warrington centre was also dismissed.
Cullen's moment of madness cost him a two-match ban although Barrow claimed at the time that Goodway had stamped on Cullen as he trooped towards the exit.
Cullen paid the price in 1990 for stepping over the mark, as it was deemed he had done in Warrington's first league win at Knowsley Road for 10 years.
Cullen lasted 20 minutes. He was shown the red card for a high tackle on St. Helens scrum half Sean Devine and was subsequently suspended for eight matches.
Cullen's appeal against the severity of the punishment fell on deaf ears and he missed out on the Wembley appearance of 1990, when Wire lost to Wigan in the Challenge Cup final.
It was a mark of his desire to be a part of the proceedings as he commentated on the match from the Press Box in Wembley's main stand.
That was around the time when Cullen's media face became clear, through his clubcall commentaries and player interviews, and he had a column too in a magazine called XIII.
His articulate summaries and all-round knowledge of the game also made him a regular contributor to Sky Television on their live match days and in the studio.
He also featured to introduce the 'History of the Wire' video that was produced in the early 1990s.
That was when the sport was made up of part-time players and Cullen doubled up his Wolves role as commercial manager.
He designed kits, set up Warrington Wolves' junior supporters' club - the Wolf Pack - and did the groundwork for the marketing of the club going into the full-time summer era that came with Super League in 1996.
It was Cullen who spotted the wolf's head in the town's crest of arms that led to a wolf-based emblem for the club and later, through marketing chiefs, a change of nickname to the Wolves.
The day that Cullen had dreaded came in 1997, when he announced he had played his last game for Warrington. The club captain was forced to retire following a six-year battle with a knee injury.
He had set his heart on a return to Super League action later that season for one last throw of the dice.
But he told Warrington Guardian at the time: "I have taken advice from the best knee surgeon in the country and the knee is now beyond rehabilitation.
"My playing days are finished. The knee has beaten me and I am finding it very difficult to accept it. "I have known this has been coming since I first suffered the injury six years ago. Since then, every game has been my last.
"I feel unfulfilled as a player. My career has been stolen from me. Having said that, I think I got more out of the game than this body should have allowed."
Cullen did make a brief comeback for the Wolves A team that year when the club was in a deep injury crisis.
He was not able to run for at least two months afterwards. He directed his efforts into coaching instead and was named as John Dorahy's assistant one game into the 1997 season.
After the sacking of Dorahy two games later, Cullen became caretaker coach for the Easter Monday clash with arch-rivals Wigan Warriors.
Alex Murphy, the rugby executive at the club, was asked to help him.
It was Cullen who prepared the team and rock bottom Warrington produced one of the unexplained mysteries of the world when, against all odds and after thumpings by Bradford, London and Sheffield, Wolves destroyed Wigan in one of the biggest upsets for years.
Cullen was appointed assistant to new head coach Darryl Van de Velde the following week while still admitting: "Coaching is no substitute for playing. I am making every tackle and running every ball while I am stood on the touchline."
He still felt this way knowing that he faced a knee reconstruction in order to help his mobility in the years ahead.
In 1996, Dorahy highlighted the mental toughness of Cullen when he talked about his club captain in the final season of his playing career.
Dorahy revealed Cullen had played throughout the campaign with serious knee injuries and could not hide his admiration when he said: "Paul has had an arthroscope on both of his knees and the amount of damage shown and the work they had to do gives credit to the man.
"He had an horrific cartilege tear that would have forced the majority of other players off the park but he battled on."
A big change came in Cullen's life in 2000 when he decided to persue his coaching career away from Wilderspool.
He landed the head coach's job at Northern Ford Premiership club Whitehaven Warriors where he turned the Cumbrian outfit into a force to be reckoned with on a low budget.
Even then, Cullen could not forget his roots and his passion for the Rugby League club that had played such a part in his life for so long.
The Wolves' Super League future was under threat if they could not secure a new home and the Government decided to call-in plans for the new stadium on Winwick Road and announced that a public inquiry was to take place in May 2001.
Wilderspool chiefs looked to Cullen for assistance.
He spoke at the public inquiry and warned of the fate of the Wolves and Warrington as a town if the new stadium was not given the go-ahead.
Cullen said the town would effectively die if the Wolves lost Super League status which was a possibility due to the state of the Wilderspool ground.
He spoke with the pride and passion that he played and worked with and his comments played a part in securing the inspector's favour for the development to go ahead, thus securing the club's future in Super League and, as it turned out, a future opportunity to become head coach of the club he loves.
Cullen came back to Warrington in August 2002 with a growing reputation as one of the finest young coaches in British Rugby League.
Cullen can reflect on more than 25 wonderful years of service for Warrington Wolves, but that will not ease the pain he must be feeling after his decision to say goodbye.