Saturday, 13 August 2011

Dale Fennell

Like many other players before and after him, Dale Fennell joined Featherstone Rovers with  an extra burden of responsibility on his shoulders. As the son of legendary full-back Jackie, his famous surname guaranteed that unfair comparisons would be made with his father. Nevertheless, Dale was quite a different player, and went on to make the most of his chances in a career that spanned five seasons and just under 100 games for the Rovers. Oh, and he won the Rugby League Championship too.
    Fennell made his debut as a teenager in August 1975 at St. Helens following an injury to Butler on the opening day of the season. When Peter Banner was signed as cover, Fennell went back to the reserves to bide his time. Within a year, Banner had left for Leeds and with Butler still injury plagued, Fennell grabbed his chance and stepped up. He played in the 1976 Yorkshire Cup final when Rovers lost a tight but entertaining game to Leeds 16-12. Fennell was up against his erstwhile team-mate Peter Banner on that day and came off second best, but as the season continued Rovers’ confidence grew and Fennell played a full part in that. A vital win over St. Helens in March gave league leaders Rovers the belief that they could hold on and win the title. Fennell was named man of the match as he scored one try and set up two others. In their final home game of the season, as Rovers paraded the Championship around Post Office Road, Dale started on the bench, but came on in the second half. The famous after-match photo shows Fennell wearing the base of the Championship trophy as a hat, as the team celebrated their amazing achievement. The following season he won representative honours when he was selected alongside team-mates Peter Smith and Steve Evans to play for Great Britain Under 24s against the 1978 Australian tourists.
    As that Championship team broke up with the likes of Thompson, Bridges, Newlove and Stone sold to other clubs, Fennell was left alongside players such as Smith, Box, Bell and Coventry to try and maintain the form shown in previous years. It wasn’t possible, but it was still a surprise to see Rovers relegated in 1979 just two seasons after being crowned Champions. Fennell started the season in the second division, but the signing of Terry Hudson indicated that he no longer figured in the club’s plans. He was snapped up by Wakefield where he spent two seasons before moving on to Bradford Northern. In 1986 Fennell moved back to Featherstone for a short spell to help out with the reserve team before retiring.

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