The long and rich history of Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Football Club

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Jim Denton and Sid Denton

Two brothers who clocked up almost 800 games for Featherstone Rovers between them.

Jim Denton
Jim and Sid Denton were in the line-up for Featherstone Rovers’ first ever game, and more than a decade later they were still going strong. Jim Denton’s appearance record still stands today, and the brothers consistently held the Rovers back-line together in the early years of senior rugby at Post Office Road. All the famous early games for Featherstone including our first ever Yorkshire Cup final (1928) and first ever Championship final (1928) featured both Jim and Sid Denton. Jim signed for Rovers aged 18 as World War One was finishing, and before long he was starring in Rovers’ all-conquering first team in their final years of junior rugby. Jim was 21 when Rovers made their senior debut, appearing on the wing where he played most of his rugby. As well as his career total of 440 games, which may never be beaten now Stuart Dickens has retired, he was also Rovers’ first prodigious points scorer. Dangerous running, fierce tackling and accurate kicking were features of his play. By the time he had retired, he had set records for tries, goals and points that would take decades to beat. In thirteen seasons he was top points scorer twelve times, top goal scorer eleven times and top try scorer four times. His career tally of 129 tries still puts him in third position on our all time tries list, and he lies 12th on the goals list with  377 goals, and 8th on the points list with 1,141. What a colossal contribution.

Sid Denton
Jim’s brother Sid also played plenty of his early rugby on the wing, including our first senior match at Bradford in 1921, on the opposite flank to his brother. He later settled in at full-back, and played the majority of his 349 games there. A solid and dependable defender, he was a good kicker too. His relatively low try total of 28 reflects the nature of full-back play in those days. He may not have caught the headlines in the way that his brother’s scoring exploits did, but Sid Denton was an integral part of Featherstone Rovers for eleven full years. Both brothers were also very handy cricketers and turned out for Featherstone in the Yorkshire Council. Their uncle, David Denton was one of Yorkshire’s greatest ever run-scorers. The fine tradition of rugby league players doubling up in the summer sport effectively ended with Rugby League’s shift to summer. See here:

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Terry Clawson and Neil Clawson

Continuing our series of famous Featherstone families, we turn our attention to two former Rovers forwards.

Terry Clawson
Terry Clawson started his Rovers career in 1957 and quickly established a reputation as a no-nonsense loose forward. He was a fixture in the Rovers team for five years, and his tough tackling and prodigious goal-kicking caught the attention of the international selectors. He made his Great Britain debut aged 21 against France in 1962, but then suffered a threat to his life when he contracted tuberculosis. After a long spell out of the game he bounced back and went on to play for a further fifteen years, what a tough character. In a colourful career he played for a variety of clubs after leaving his hometown team in 1965, mixing some notable highpoints such as playing for Leeds at Wembley with some self-admitted low points. He won a total of 14 GB caps though, and kicked two goals in a famous British triumph in the 1972 World Cup final. He was also a Great Britain tourist in 1974. Towards the end of his career Terry came back to Featherstone and had a spell as player-coach in 1978. His record of 483 goals for Rovers in 215 games puts him 6th on Rovers all-time goal kicking list. See here:

Terry’s son Neil played some of his junior rugby out in Australia while his dad was playing for South Newcastle, and when the Clawsons came home, Neil signed for Featherstone. Neil started out as a rangy back-row forward, but moved up to the front row when he put some weight on. Father and son managed to create their own little piece of history in November 1978. Terry started in the Rovers front row and Neil came off the bench against Workington and Rochdale, becoming possibly the first ever father and son to play together in the same professional match. Unfortunately Rovers lost both games heavily, Terry soon lost his job as coach and Neil was back in the A team. Clawson junior stuck at it though and went on to make 62 appearances for the Rovers (24 off the bench) mainly between 1984 and 1986 before being sold to Oldham. He gave Oldham four years good service, playing over 80 games in the front row alongside future Rover Leo Casey. He missed out on the 1988 Premiership final against us at Old Trafford. Neil finished his professional career at Bramley.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tom Fox, Peter Fox, Don Fox and Neil Fox

Today  we look at a family from Sharlston, who went onto world fame in rugby league.

Don, Peter and Neil
Tom Fox was a back-row forward who signed for Featherstone in 1931 from Sharlston. He had a modest career at Post Office Road spanning 26 games over four years, after making his debut in a memorable 47-0 win over Bradford in October 1931. Perhaps his greatest moment as a player came when he went back to the amateur game at Sharlston. In 1946 Tom was player-coach of his home-town team when they beat Workington Town in the Challenge Cup. He was 37 at the time.

After starting out with Sharlston, Tom’s oldest son Peter duly signed for Featherstone Rovers in September 1953. He was a back-row forward like his father, but struggled to find a place in a strong Rovers line-up. He stayed with Rovers some three seasons before moving on to today’s opponents Batley. With Featherstone, he made a total of 34 appearances, scoring two tries and 15 goals. It was as a coach that Peter Fox made a much greater mark, both at Featherstone in two spells, and at a host of other clubs too. He was Rovers first team boss from 1970 to 1974, taking the side to Wembley twice. He was coach again from 1987 to 1991.

Peter’s younger brother Don had already signed for Rovers in April 1953 before his older brother, and despite strong competition for the scrum-half role he immediately set about re-writing the record books. He turned into a prolific try and goal scorer. Don Fox went on to become arguably the greatest player Rovers have ever produced. Indeed, such are his feats that it took a whole book by Ron Bailey to list them all! His name is still in the Rovers record books as our most top career try scorer, but there was much more to his game than just points scoring. Towards the end of his career, after a successful time with Wakefield, he had a short spell as a player, then the coach of Batley. See here: and

Looking back and reflecting on players that escaped the net, players Rovers could have signed but didn’t, then Neil Fox, the youngest of Tommy’s three sons would be top of that list. Captain of Rovers U18 team, he was signed by Wakefield from under our noses and went on to become a legend, one of the greatest players of all time bar none. 2,575 career goals (a thousand more than the amazing Steve Quinn even) and a mammoth 6,220 points (a figure that will surely never be beaten by anyone) are awesome statistics but small testimony to Neil Fox. Why didn’t he sign for us? Over the years I’ve heard a number of theories as to why, but the fact is he didn’t, and we can only dream about what life would have been like for Rovers in the 1960s if he had.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Tommy Smales and Ian Smales

 A new blog series starts today with a look at the many famous families who have represented Featherstone Rovers.

Tommy Smales
Although he was born locally, Tommy Smales was a professional for seven years before pulling on the blue and white shirt of Featherstone Rovers. As a teenager he signed for Wigan, and was also at Barrow before coming home in 1965. Over the next four years he was to make the loose forward jersey his own with his creative skills and accurate goal kicking. For three straight years he was the club’s leading points and goal-scorer, his best year being 1966/7 when he landed 122 goals and scored 271 points. Nine of those points came at Wembley where a try and three goals saw Tommy shine in Rovers first Cup final win, against his old club. He retired prematurely at 30 and then entered coaching. As well as a very brief spell in charge of Rovers in 1974/5, he also coached Batley, Bramley, Dewsbury and Doncaster. See here:

Ian Smales
Tommy’s son Ian signed for Rovers in a blaze of publicity in 1987, the BARLA Youth player of the year that season and he soon forced himself into first team reckoning. Opinion was always divided over the best way for Ian’s undoubted talents to be used. This writer’s view was that it was as a creative loose forward in the mould of his father that he was at his most effective, though his record speaks volumes for his versatility. In 166 first team games Ian’s appearances were as follows: As a winger 19 games; as a centre 27 games; as stand-off 28 games; as second-row 58 games; as loose forward 22 games; he also played 12 games off the bench. In whichever position, Ian was a strong runner, sound tackler, capable kicker and showed touches of real class. He was recognised for international honours on the Lions tour of 1990, but disappointingly his representative career never took off. Rovers cashed in on his talents with a big money transfer in the summer of 1993.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Nathan Graham, Nathan Batty, Nathan Larvin, Loz Wildbore, Ian Hardman

After a long run of Australian full-backs, Rovers have since turned nearer to home for their full-backs. When Michael Rhodes went back to Brisbane after two tidy seasons in the number one shirt, Rovers signed Dewsbury full-back Nathan Graham. Graham had previously played at Bradford, but his career was blighted by a number of dropped bombs in the 1996 Challenge Cup final for which he was unfairly castigated. He rebuilt his confidence admirably at Championship level and over two seasons for Featherstone (2002 and 2003) he missed just a single game. He was a solid tackler on defence, and his bustling running style and eye for a gap served him well. His total of 67 appearances also brought 21 tries. 

Nathan Batty
Rovers’ next full-back also came via Dewsbury and was also called Nathan. Nathan Batty had started his career at Wakefield, but after one year at Dewsbury, Rovers coach Gary Price saw enough potential to bring him to Post Office Road. A whole-hearted player, he appeared in 51 games throughout 2004 and 2005, moving to centre during the 2006 campaign. A serious knee injury hampered his progress and eventually forced him into premature retirement. Batty played a total of 51 games, scoring 12 tries.

Craig Moss
 At the same time, youngster Craig Moss came through the junior ranks, playing 53 games for the first team, filling in at both full-back and occasionally on the wing. Moss then moved on to Keighley.

Nathan Larvin
First choice full-back for the 2006 season was another local youngster, Nathan Larvin, who played in 32 games, scoring 10 tries, before later playing at Hunslet.

Loz Wildbore
Larvin lost his place to Loz Wildbore, signed from Doncaster, although he was originally from Hull. Part of Rovers promotion team in 2007, Loz played 42 games over two seasons, scoring 13 tries. He left Rovers for Widnes, and later played for York and the new South Wales club.

Ian Hardman

Now in his seventh season since signing from Widnes, Ian Hardman started his career at St. Helens, before being loaned out to Hull KR and then Widnes. To date he has appeared in 145 Rovers matches, scoring 75 tries.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

John Strange, Steve Collins, Wayne Simonds, Michael Rhodes

When Carl Gibson decided to hang up his boots in 1996 after a distinguished career, Rovers looked overseas to fill the gap. This turned into a habit, as the next four occupants of the full-back shirt at Featherstone were all Australian. In the past, Rovers had occasionally dabbled with the idea of an Australian full-back without too much success. In the 1983/84 season, Kangaroo tourist Allan MacMahon was signed up on a short term deal. An international footballer with an excellent pedigree having been a Kangaroo tourist in 1978, he was approaching the end of his career. However, he failed to live up to expectations and appeared in just nine games. Two years later, NSW Premiership veteran Rod Pethybridge was brought over from Balmain, but he lasted just seven games before being sacked along with three other antipodeans in a purge of foreign players by George Pieniazek. After these disappointing experiences it was to be more than a decade before Rovers signed another foreign full-back.

1997 John Strange

Youngster John Strange arrived early in the 1997 campaign with much less weight of expectation on his shoulders. He saw off challenges from both Steve Lay (signed from Halifax) and Lee Maher (signed from Leeds) to establish himself as first choice full-back throughout the year. He did a sound job during a difficult phase for the club, playing 23 games, and scoring 7 tries, but his contract was not renewed and he left for York, and then later Sheffield.


1998 Steve Collins
The following season Rovers went decidedly more upmarket. With a wealth of top flight experience down under having played for Parramatta and Canberra, Steve Collins immediately slotted into the first team as a classy-looking player. With plenty of pace, and good positional sense he rapidly became one of the stand-out players in the league and was instrumental in helping Rovers to within a whisker of Super League at the end of the year. Collins played a total of 32 games in 1998, notching 22 tries, four of which came against Keighley in April. He also scored two tries in the rout of Hull KR in the playoff semi-final, and scored again in the final against Wakefield. Inevitably, when our push for promotion failed, a top flight club came in for his services and Steve signed in 1999 for Gateshead Thunder in Super League. After their so-called merger he played a year for Hull FC, where he was used a lot at centre. The gap in the Featherstone first team left by Collins was filled by further Australian signings. 
1999 Wayne Simonds

 Under new coach Kevin Hobbs Rovers opened the 1999 season with new signing from Dewsbury Matt Bramald at full-back. Matt went on to be a consistent feature in the Rovers first team over the next three years, often filling in at full-back but mainly as a winger. He played a total of 123 games in four seasons, scoring a very respectable 65 tries. When Australian Wayne Simonds arrived, he originally took up a wing slot opposite promising youngster Jamie Stokes who was just starting out. Simonds had some pedigree in the top flight of the game in Australia.  At 32 years old, he was now approaching veteran status. Having started his career at Western Suburbs Magpies where he spent six years, he had then had spells at Parramatta Eels, and the two new clubs, the South Queensland Crushers and Adelaide Rams.
Simonds was somewhat short in stature but he had real pace. He did well on the wing, but really flourished after switching to fullback where he enjoyed more space to run. In total, Wayne played 27 games, and scored 19 tries. His best afternoon was scoring four tries at Keighley in April. At the end of that season he decided to retire, and so for the 2000 season there was another Australian on the scene. This time however it was not a player with proven NRL experience.

 2000 Michael Rhodes

 At 24 years old, Michael Rhodes was much younger than Simonds when he was signed. He had been playing for Brisbane Norths in the Queensland League, a feeder club to the then recently formed Melbourne Storm. After an unsure start at Featherstone, Rhodes found his feet in English conditions and became a safe, if unspectacular, last line of defence under Peter Roe’s coaching. In all, Rhodes played 55 games over two seasons, and scored a total of 19 tries.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Carl Gibson

Originally signed in the summer of 1993 as a winger or centre, Carl Gibson made the switch to number one late in his career. With star full-back Chris Bibb struggling for form and fitness, coach Steve Martin turned first to Martin Pearson and then to Gibson to plug the gap. After starting his career at Batley in 1981, Carl made a big enough name for himself to win a Great Britain cap whilst still at Mount Pleasant. He then made a big money move to Leeds, where he spent seven years, playing almost 200 games for the Loiners, setting a record along the way of 91 consecutive appearances. He added to his collection of international honours, being selected on the same summer tour to New Zealand as Chris Bibb in the summer of 1990. His career highlight came later that year as centre for Great Britain against Australia at Wembley in an historic win. The other centre that day was of course our very own Daryl Powell. At 29 years old Gibson was approaching veteran status when he moved to Post Office Road.

At Featherstone, with Paul Newlove gone and Andy Currier immediately injured, Carl had pressure on him from the start, but he took this coolly in his stride. He played at centre until Christmas, before the call came to switch to full-back. There he looked assured and confident, and the extra space at the back gave him room to show the speed he still had. An ever present in his first year, notching an impressive 17 tries, he repeated the feat the following year, adding another 10 tries, and it looked like he would break Percy Morris’s long standing consecutive appearances record. 

When Rovers were excluded from Super League, Carl stayed loyal as Rovers went into the lower league. During the centenary season Chris Bibb made a brief comeback reclaiming the number one shirt, and Carl swopped back to centre with no fuss. When injuries finally got the better of Bibb, Carl was back at full-back. Slowly he approached Morris’ mythical figure, but a cruel injury put a stop to his run on an agonising 87 straight games when he missed the trip to Huddersfield in January 1996. (The record was actually broken years later by another winger-cum-full-back Matt Bramald).

After playing through the first summer season Carl Gibson went back to hometown team Batley to play three farewell matches before he retired in 1996, having played a total of 97 games for Featherstone and scoring 37 tries.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Chris Bibb

From nervous winger emerging through the junior ranks to exciting first team full-back, Chris Bibb’s rise to prominence was as rapid as it was welcome. One bright spot in the miserable relegation year of 1986/87 was the form of young Chris Bibb, who was took the chance to shine given to him by coach Paul Daley. His early club games won him a place in the GB Colts side to play France where he suffered a serious concussion being detained overnight in hospital. After that, he wore a distinctive head-guard throughout the early part of his career. When Peter Fox took over in 1987 he dabbled with Graham Steadman at full-back before plumping for Bibb, who rewarded him with 20 tries in his first full season. Bibb’s high speed chases of long Steadman kicks straight from the scrum became a regular try scoring feature for Rovers. Chris also won the first of his five GB Under 21 caps, but missed out on our trip to Old Trafford in 1988 through injury. 

He took his form seamlessly into the top flight, where he continued to catch the eye with his runs of real pace bringing plenty of tries. Despite his slight build, he also displayed some terrific cover defence. One highlight was his six tries in a match effort against Keighley in 1989. He appeared for Yorkshire in their victorious War of the Roses fixtures. Chris Bibb then won the ultimate accolade of a Great Britain tour spot in the summer of 1990 to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. On tour he played eight games and it was in the first test at Palmerston North where Bibb made his test debut, thereby becoming the first, and so far to date, the only Featherstone player to represent Great Britain at full-back in tests. He helped his country to an 11-10 success, but was overlooked for the remaining tests. On returning from that tour, his top form continued. Disappointingly Rovers found themselves back in the second division in 1992, but Bibb took it in his stride until a serious knee injury in March 1993 at Rochdale ended his season, with Martin Pearson filling in as Bibb missed out on Old Trafford again.

After that, it became increasingly difficult for Bibb to recover full fitness. After six full years as first choice full-back he was now struggling for form, and over the next two seasons played just nine games. He was granted a testimonial in the truncated 1995/96 before leaving the club. He played the odd game for Wakefield and also some rugby union. In total he scored 79 tries in 248 appearances for Featherstone Rovers.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nigel Barker

When Harold Box left Featherstone Rovers for Wakefield in the summer of 1980 after seven seasons as first choice full-back, there were a number of contenders waiting to take his place.

1982 Nigel Barker.
Unusually though, the three main candidates were not fresh-faced youngsters, but rather they were already quite experienced players. The ‘A’ team full-back was Graeme Robinson, who had been on the club’s books for four years and had been playing very well for the reserves. However, he soon left for new club Carlisle. John Marsden actually signed for Rovers back in 1971 and made his debut in 1974. He had played some first team games on the wing over the years, and was the first player to get an extended run at full-back after Box’s departure. He then lost his place to a local amateur player who only turned professional at 25 years old.

Nigel Barker had been playing open age rugby for Featherstone Miners’ Welfare for five years, and so he might have been forgiven for thinking that his chances of making the grade had gone. However, he finally signed professional forms in December 1980 and went on to make his first team debut in January 1981. A no-frills style of full-back, Nigel proved to be a durable and reliable member of the first team squad over the next six seasons. After displacing Marsden, he played in every single game of 1981/82, showing a dedicated attitude, solid tackling and great strength in his running. Safe under the high ball, and always well positioned, he did not have the kicking game of his predecessors, but was a calm and assured presence at the back.

Like so many of his team-mates, Barker was inspired in Rovers’ magical cup run of 1982/83, scoring two tries in the second round at Salford, followed by marvellous work in the later rounds against Saints, Bradford and Hull to claim a cherished Cup winner’s medal. He finished that season with ten tries, the best haul in his career. Despite Rovers signing more than one Antipodean import full-back, including Allan MacMahon and Rod Pethybridge, Nigel missed very few games over the next three seasons. It wasn’t until early in 1986 when Chris Bibb emerged as a contender for the full-back shirt that Barker lost his regular first team slot. With the nature of the game changing, full-backs were now being used as attacking weapons and pace became vital. Inevitably Barker lost out to the younger and faster Bibb, but nevertheless Nigel continued to serve the club faithfully in the ‘A’ team. His loyalty was rewarded in 1991 when he was granted a benefit year after which, at the age of 36, he retired. In eleven seasons he made 199 first team appearances and scored 28 tries.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Harold Box

Towards the end of his magnificent career, Cyril Kellett faced a strong challenge for his place from promising youngster Harold Box. By the time Kellett retired, Box was more than ready to take over.

1974 Harold Box.
Harold Box actually made his Rovers debut in early 1970. With Kellett nursing a broken ankle, the first team needed both a replacement full-back and a goal kicker. Box stepped up from the A team, landed six goals on his debut against Keighley and filled in quite ably for the rest of the year. When Kellett came back to fitness, Box had to bide his time, managing 18, then 19 then 12 first team appearances over the next three years, missing out on the 1973 Cup final. Harold’s breakthrough season came the year after, when he played 40 out of 45 games in a very successful year, which culminated with him playing for Rovers at full-back at Wembley against Warrington. He landed three goals, but Rovers lost a disappointing game 24-9.

From then on the number one shirt was his for the rest of the 1970s and he duly picked up a Championship medal in 1977. Although Rovers rapidly changed head coach in this period, the instantly recognisable face of Box remained a constant figure at full-back. A chunky and powerful runner of the ball, he was a committed defender with a neat turn of speed on attack. He was Rovers’ top goal kicker five years out of seven between 1971 and 1978 and his best return was 1973/74 when he landed 92 goals. The arrival of Steve Quinn inevitably limited his chances in that respect.

When Rovers went into the Second Division in 1979 it was time for Box’s testimonial after ten years’ loyal service, which raised a then-record amount. At the end of that season, after winning the Second Division Championship, Harold was transferred to Wakefield Trinity. He had played a grand total of 283 games, kicking 476 goals and scoring 1,123 points, not forgetting a very useful 57 tries. At the time that left him fourth on both our all-time goals list (he now lies 7th) and points list (he now lies 9th). Having qualified through his grandparents, Box also became Featherstone’s first Welsh international, representing his adopted country at the European Championships.

He held off challenges from two promising youngsters for his full-back shirt. One was Graeme Robinson, whose form in the reserves warranted a first team shot. In the end , Robinson left to form part of a new club at Carlisle. A young John Marsden also put in some promising displays at full-back before he eventually settled on the wing. Rovers began the 1980s hoping another young full-back would step up to the challenge.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Cyril Kellett

Thanks to the local junior network, most youngsters from the Featherstone area find their way to Post Office Road when they first turn professional. One lad who didn’t was Cyril Kellett. Although he was born in Featherstone, Cyril signed for Hull Kingston Rovers as a youngster in 1956 and he was 28 years old before he joined his hometown team.

1968 Cyril Kellett.

Signed in January 1968 after a distinguished decade at Craven Park, Kellett immediately filled two roles, taking the full-back shirt from Brian Wrigglesworth and the goal-kicking duties from Tommy Smales. He then began to rack up some impressive statistics, just as he had done throughout his career. In his first full year he kicked 125 goals and provided a solid last line of defence. His experience and ability to read a game invariably found him in the right place at the right time, compensating for a lack of pace. His prolific goal-kicking extended into his second year with 83, followed by 90 goals the next. By now, another young full-back had come on the scene, and he proved to be a handy goal-kicker too. Harold Box presented a serious challenge to Kellett over the last three years of his career. Box claimed the full-back role for a large part of the 1971/2 season, when Kellett was injured. The old-timer was not done yet though, and forced his way back into the reckoning, and at the ripe old age of 34 had his finest hour. 

Although he had played in a Wembley final for Hull KR in 1964, he will always be remembered for the 1973 cup final against Bradford when his immaculate display of place kicking landed him a perfect eight from eight. It was a record that has never been broken, though it was equalled by Iestyn Harris. Cyril finished that year by smashing the Featherstone Rovers goals in a season record with 139, a figure since beaten by Steve Quinn, then Jamie Rooney.

The following year Kellett played 13 games, including a winning cup semi-final against Leigh. Box got the nod for the final though, and that summer Cyril Kellett finally retired. The records he set speak for themselves. Despite spending just six years at Featherstone, he kicked a phenomenal 557 goals in 171 appearances. He still stands third on our goal-kicking lists behind only Steve Quinn and Stuart Dickens. Moreover, in the whole history of the game, only Jim Sullivan and Neil Fox kicked more goals than Cyril Kellett. When he hung up his boots he had kicked a phenomenal 1,768 career goals, some 190 more than Quinn, who is himself seventh on the all-time list.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Brian Wrigglesworth

Gary Cooper was in the prime of his Featherstone career when he moved to neighbours Wakefield Trinity in 1966. Perhaps if he had known that Rovers would be at Wembley the very next year, he might well have stayed. Cooper’s loss turned out to be a gain for another player though.

1967 Brian Wrigglesworth.
As the 1966/67 season started, it was a real struggle to find a suitable replacement for Cooper. Dave Kellett, Stan Dawson, Jimmy Bell and Howard Darbyshire all had a run out at full-back during a disappointing league campaign. None of them managed to put together a significant run in the first team. Then in January coach Laurie Gant turned to erstwhile centre Brian Wrigglesworth and soon realised that he had found the answer.

Having started his career as a stand-off at lowly Doncaster back in 1957, Wrigglesworth then had a few seasons at Bramley, and while he was there he was selected for Yorkshire at stand-off. From Barley Mow he moved to Hull KR for a season before joining Featherstone in 1966. His reputation was as an elusive running stand-off, who was prepared to take risks and try something different. With Mick Smith at stand-off, Rovers initially used Brian more in the centres, before Gant took the gamble of starting him at full-back. Now aged almost 30,  his switch to number one suited his game perfectly.

As Rovers embarked on another of their famous Cup runs, Wrigglesworth came to the fore with some eye-catching runs and a try or two. Rovers reached the Cup final and Brian must have thought the wide open spaces at Wembley would suit his game. But it was on defence that he made his mark in the final as Barrow and Great Britain winger Bill Burgess surged clear in his own half and raced away with only Wrigglesworth to beat. His team was already five points up and a ten point gap could be too big for Rovers to claw back. Wriggy nailed his man in fine style, showing him the outside and pulling off the perfect cover tackle. He went on to pick up his winner’s medal.

Although unheralded when he arrived, Wrigglesworth’s impact on the team had been noticeable. His enthusiasm and adventurousness were valuable assets. He played throughout the following season, before turning to coaching. He became player coach of the A team and won the Yorkshire Combination with them in 1972. Coincidentally he relinquished his first team spot to another local lad who was ‘coming home’ from Hull Kingston Rovers. In total Brian Wrigglesworth played 66 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored eleven tries.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Gary Cooper

As Jackie Fennell’s reign at full-back came to an end, it was obvious who his replacement was going to be: a name straight from Hollywood.

1959 Gary Cooper.

The redoubtable Fennell had received numerous challenges to his full-back position over a long and distinguished career, notably from Ken Elford, but the rise of Gary Cooper coincided with an injury to Fennell, and the recently-signed youngster jumped at the chance. Even as a novice, Cooper displayed the speed and poise that would mark his whole career, and everything he did had a touch of class about it. His eye for a gap, and an unorthodox style made him a difficult player to bring down. After being a virtual ever present in his first season as a pro in 1958/59, it must have been tough for Cooper to accept a bit part role over the next two seasons as Fennell recovered form and fitness. Cooper had to be content with A team rugby, some occasional runs at full-back or centre, and even a spell out of the game when he was studying down south. Gradually though, he carved out a first team place for himself in the three-quarters, and he did this so successfully that the 1961/62 season brought him 18 tries. His form won him a place on the 1962 Great Britain tour of Australia, undoubtedly a career highlight for any player. Don Fox  was the other Featherstone representative on that tour. Although he did not make the test team, Cooper played a total of 16 games on tour and scored 13 tries.

On his return, Gary Cooper was named Featherstone’s club captain, but quickly gave that up when it started to affect his game. In late 1963, soon after asking to be transfer –listed, Cooper finally took over at full-back as Jackie Fennell’s career wound down. Gary played through until the end of 1965/66 when his long running dispute with the club came to a head and he was finally sold to Wakefield Trinity for £3,000. In eight seasons at Featherstone Rovers he played a total of 192 games and scored 43 tries.

He enjoyed a tremendously successful time at Belle Vue, playing in the watersplash Challenge Cup final of 1968, and winning the Harry Sunderland medal for his performance in the 1968 Championship final against Hull KR. Once his playing career was over he had a two year coaching spell at York, between 1974 and 1976. 

Back at Featherstone, Cooper’s departure opened the way for a number of young players coming through to try and stake their claim in Laurie Gant’s team. These included Stan Dawson, Howard Darbyshire and Dave Kellett. But it was another name that would fill the full-back shirt for Rovers at Wembley in 1967.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Jackie Fennell

One door closes, but another opens. How often has that been true in the history of player development at Featherstone? The legendary full-back Freddie Miller called it a day in November 1952, and a month later we signed a promising young hopeful from Bagley’s Recs.

1952 Jackie Fennell. 

Throughout the 1950s Featherstone Rovers had a very good team. And every good team needs its star players. And every good team needs its under-rated clubmen, who offer a high level of skill, commitment and consistency week in, week out with the minimum of fuss. At Rovers throughout that decade Jackie Fennell was one such figure.

After turning professional at 19 years old, locally born Fennell went straight into the first team. At this stage in his career he was a stand-off, but within a short time he would receive tremendous competition for that position from his great friend Joe Mullaney. Fennell therefore played much of his first full season in the A team. The full-back position was invariably filled by a young Keith Goulding, who much later became Rovers’ head coach. Ken Elford took over from Goulding, but Jackie Fennell was playing too well in the reserves to be ignored. Over the next season and a half, he vied with Elford for the number one jersey, but also filled in ably at centre, on the wing, and at stand-off if Mullaney was injured.

Gradually though, Fennell made full-back his home, with dogged last line of defence tackling, a never-say-die spirit and a very useful kicking contribution his trademarks. Given the place-kicking duties between 1955 and 1958 he kicked 102, 78 and 101 goals a season, and became only the second player ever to land 100 goals in a year. He won a Yorkshire Cup winner’s medal in 1959, but never appeared in a Wembley final, being part of a beaten semi-final team in 1958, 1960 and 1962.

Although Jackie relinquished the kicking duties to Terry Clawson, his displays continued to be a model of consistency into his thirties. Awarded a richly deserved benefit in 1963, he was judged by many as unlucky to have missed out on county honours, the victim perhaps of playing for a team perceived to be unfashionable at a time when politics had a lot to do with representative selection. Jackie Fennell eventually retired two years later after definitively having lost his first team slot to young Gary Cooper. In total he played 323 games and scored exactly 1,000 points, only the second player ever (after Jim Denton) to achieve that milestone. His 455 goal tally was also a club record until it was broken by former team-mates Terry Clawson and Don Fox.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Freddie Miller

The early 1950s saw a perceptible shift in the history of Featherstone Rovers. In a concerted effort to put the struggles of the 1930s and 40s behind them, the club decided to retain as much talent as possible and build a winning team. In January 1950 Rovers made one of their most significant purchases ever.

1950 Freddie Miller

 In many ways, Freddie Miller was an unlikely looking hero. He was a big man, and at 35 years old had been on the books of Hull FC for seventeen years, the last few of which had been somewhat injury-dogged. He could have been forgiven for coming to Featherstone for a couple of gentle seasons before easing into retirement. Instead, his commanding presence, experience and general aura inspired his team-mates to believe in themselves and the club improved immeasurably in three short years before Miller’s retirement in November 1952. The bald statistics say that he played 92 games for the club, kicked 245 goals and scored two tries, but that would be a woefully inadequate tribute to the impact he had.

 In terms of his playing style, Freddie Miller was a product of his times. Safe under the high ball, his number one weapon was his powerful boot, which he used in kicking duels with the opposition full-back to pen opponents back in their own territory. Ally that to tenacious tackling from a young and keen pack of forwards and that is the blueprint for a defensive structure that served Rovers very well. His ability to turn penalties into points was unrivalled. When he arrived, the Featherstone goals in a season record stood at 55 by Lockwood in 1935, the only time a Rovers kicker had ever landed more than 50. In his first full season Miller clocked 97. In his second 101. He was simply phenomenal.
The zenith of Freddie’s career was our Challenge Cup run in 1952. He kicked four goals in an epic quarter final against Wigan, but his semi-final performance on a heavy Headingley pitch against Leigh was masterful. His three precious penalty goals in a try-less game made all the difference and sent Miller, at the grand old age of 37, to his first ever Wembley final. Little wonder the cover of Rovers’ Wembley brochure had a cartoon with “Miller’s Magic Boot” on it. He kicked a couple at Wembley too as Rovers came off second best to Workington.

 After retiring, he suffered from ill health and died at the tragically young age of 45 in 1960, just eight years after hanging up his boots. In a fitting tribute, the club built the Freddie Miller Memorial Gate at the entrance of the stadium for future generations to know the name of one the club’s true legends. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jackie Blackburn

Continuing our new series of looking at Rovers’ fullbacks, we turn our attention this week to the 1940s which was, just as the previous decade had been, a time of real struggle for the club. The country was in the grip of a World War and to ease the problems of player availability due to military call ups the RFL introduced a "guest" system whereby a professionally registered player could turn out for another club at short notice with his own club’s permission. Our great centre Walt Tennant for instance once played a game for St. Helens. Rovers occasionally used Castleford’s full-back Norman Guest as a guest. I suppose the modern equivalent of that would be Rovers signing a player called Jamie Dual-Registration, but that seems unlikely.

1939 Jackie Blackburn

Just before the war, a promising youngster by the name of Jack Blackburn had been tried out, and his eye-catching skills marked him out as a future star. However, like so many others, his progress was blocked by an army call up. Therefore, Featherstone’s first choice full-back up to 1943 was Walt Parkin, who played a total of 140 games for the club between 1938 and 1946 and kicked 41 goals. This was a very useful return for a solid footballer like Parkin, playing in a losing team that didn’t score a lot of points. Former favourite from the 1930s Billy Stott came back from Oldham and filled in for a few games at full back as a guest player. Next to try his luck after Parkin was Larry Hossack who played a total of 55 games, although some of those games were as a three-quarter.

After Hossack, Cyril Pawson made his mark, playing 81 games in which he kicked 56 goals. As the war came to an end, another promising local lad Irving Barraclough came through. He was the latest in a long line of Barracloughs who had made their way into the Rovers first team. He played 57 games and kicked 80 goals. As an example of the struggle Rovers had at this time, Barraclough actually finished as the club’s leading goal kicker in 1944/45 with a grand total of 13 goals! Once the war was over, Jack Blackburn came back into the reckoning. He had made a slow recovery from an injury sustained playing union for the RAF, but enjoyed a run at full-back in 1947/8. Jack made a total of 139 games for the club stretched over 14 years before finally retiring around the time of Rovers’ first ever Wembley. Towards the end of the decade Tommy Townsend took over at full-back. He proved to be a more than useful goal-kicker landing 76 in the 45 games he played, and was the club’s leading points scorer two years running in 1949 and 1950.

Townsend’s successor proved to be the daddy of them all in the goal-kicking department. After this long series of locally produced full-backs ended, the club went to Hull and signed a legend in January 1950.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

George Johnson Jr.

The 1930s were a period of real struggle for the Rovers. The retirement of stalwart Sid Denton in 1932 left a hole in the fabric of the team. Throughout the following decade no player managed to make a strong and lasting impact at full-back in the way that Denton had, as the club constantly battled against a difficult financial situation.

1932 George Johnson
The fact that no-one came to call the number one shirt his own for more than a couple of seasons was not a reflection of the junior talent the club produced. It was simply that the club’s policy of ‘sell to survive’  meant that any useful player who established himself had a market price, and sooner or later, the club was forced to cash in. A prime example of this was today’s featured full-back. Although he was the son of Rovers’ founding father and club president, George Johnson junior had to battle his way into the team the same as any other player. He was a useful goal kicker and solid defender who had a good ability to read a game. With the retirement of Denton he was first choice full-back for a couple of years before switching to stand-off to accommodate Ben Lockwood. Johnson was sold to Hunslet in 1935 after playing 108 games.   

In Lockwood, Rovers had found an able replacement and he accomplished the then rare feat of playing in every single game in a season (1934/5), the first time a full-back had done that. His 55 goals that year may seem modest by today’s standards, but was in fact a club record at the time, beating any season’s best by the previous record holder Jim Denton. When Lockwood was sold, Tommy Dennis took over and made 86 appearances for the club. Then Jack Pollitt had some success, playing 75 games over two seasons before the second world war broke out. All clubs were obviously disrupted at that time, as players were called up for military service, and the strict registration rules were relaxed to allow clubs to put out a team more easily. After many years of unrelenting lack of success, the start of the war brought Featherstone their first ever piece of silverware when the won the 1940 Yorkshire Cup final against Wakefield at Odsal. Full-back that day in the absence of Pollitt and emerging youngster Walt Parkin was Jack Haley. He only played nine games for the club in his whole career, but was in the right place at the right time to pick up a winner’s medal. Or he would have done if it hadn’t been for the war. The Yorkshire County committee decided not to award medals, and the players received a canteen of cutlery instead. Club chairman Abraham Bullock was reported to have dipped into his pocket at a later date to make sure the players finally got a medal as a keepsake of the event.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Sid Denton

1921 Sid Denton

When Rovers played their first ever senior match in August 1921 at Bradford the fullback was Charlie Smith. There’s no record of how well he played, but within a couple of weeks the club were already trying out other players in that role. Bowen, Green, Burridge, and Gill all received chances in what turned out to be a problem position for the league’s new boys. Eventually the experienced Billy Seymour, who had started the season as first choice centre, moved to full-back and covered the slot ably. Given the wide variety of players tried, it seems odd that a young lad who played all that debut season on the wing without ever being given a go emerged the following year as first choice full-back. Not only did Sid Denton nail the number one shirt as his own, he kept it too, for a full decade.

Sid and his brother Jim Denton were mainstays of the Rovers’ back-line throughout the twenties and early thirties. Sid had made his Featherstone debut when the club was still playing in the junior leagues in 1919. He was an integral part of that all-conquering side that was so successful that the Northern Union had little option but to promote them to the senior league in 1921. Sid went on to make a massive total of 349 first-team games, but even that figure was dwarfed by his brother’s consistency, Jim played a record 440 games for Featherstone.

The role of full-back was in some ways very different to nowadays, but in other ways certain things haven’t changed. Linking up into the line on attack was not really a feature of full-back play in the twenties, hence Sid’s total of just 28 tries in those 349 matches. He was, of course, very capable on defence, which was often a lonely job standing as the last line between the opposition and the try line. He was adept at fielding all kinds of kicks,  and his safe handling was a must in the days of unlimited tackles. Full-backs in those days would often be involved in kicking duels, vying for field position by immediately kicking the ball back over the head of the opposition full-back after catching it. Sid Denton held his own against the best of the day.

His finest hour was in 1928 when Featherstone qualified for the Top 4 Championship playoffs after finishing third in the league. Holding a slender lead against Leeds in the semi-final at Headingley, Denton intercepted a pass in his own 25, raced to half-way, chipped over his opposite number, hacked the ball ahead and dived on it for a famous score which helped Rovers to a stunning 15-12 success and their first ever Championship final. Sid Denton also represented Rovers at full-back in their first ever Yorkshire Cup final that same year. He eventually retired in 1932.