By the summer of 1951 Rovers had been in the top flight of Rugby League for some thirty years. They were no longer the ‘babes of the league’ and having struggled through the great depression of the thirties and the Second World War, they were looking to make a lasting impact at the top end of the table. The effects of the coaching regime of Eric Batten were beginning to be felt and a new breed of player was emerging at the club; young, fit and eager for success. Batten’s squad-building included the signings of Ray Cording and Willis Fawley (1950), Don Metcalfe and Ray Evans (1951), Jackie Fennell and Mick Clamp (1952), Don Fox and Joe Mullaney (1953).
Once his national service was over, young scrum-half Ray Evans was free to concentrate on his rugby. Born into the game like so many, Evans’ family connections were however more extensive than most. He was the youngest brother of Wilf and Joe Evans two famous names from Rovers’ teams of the 1930s. He was also the father of Barry Evans and grandfather of Danny Evans. Ray made a winning first team debut in August 1951 against Rochdale, an occasion he marked with a try. The incumbent scrum-half at the time was stalwart Jimmy Russell, but Batten’s insistence on youth and agility gave Evans his chance and how he took it. With victories over Rochdale, Batley, Wigan and Leigh the club went all the way to the Cup final at Wembley. There, with Evans directing traffic at number seven, Rovers came off second best to a classy Workington side, but Evans had the satisfaction of notching Rovers’ second try, becoming one of only ten players in the history of the club to have scored a try at Wembley. A shame then that the tremendous Pathe News clip of the game available to watch on Youtube doesn’t cover Evans’ late consolation effort. The clip is worth checking out anyway, wonderful images of a bygone era.
Having hit the heights at Wembley it may have appeared to young Ray that a long and successful career at Rovers awaited him. He could hardly have imagined the fierce competition that he was to face in the seasons ahead from future giants of the game such as Don Fox and Tommy Smales. In the summer of 1953 coach Batten had quite a dilemma on his hands. The 22 year old Evans was playing as well as ever, but the claims of Fox (aged 18) and Smales (21) were hard to ignore. Evans found it increasingly difficult to maintain his first team slot and in September 1954 he bowed to the inevitable and accepted a transfer to Rochdale for the sum of £1,500. He later also served Hull K.R. with distinction. In total he played 73 games for Featherstone and scored 22 tries in three seasons.