Laurie Gant’s side of the late sixties and Peter Fox’s side of the early seventies were built around a renowned pack of forwards and wily half-backs. But every team needs its quality wingers too, and in Dave Hartley Featherstone Rovers had a top finisher.
As a junior Dave signed for Leeds, but having failed to make his way at Headingley, he signed for Rovers whilst still a teenager in 1965. At this stage Dave was primarily a centre, but the competition for a place in our three-quarter line was strong. In his first season, the chunky Hartley had to wait to force his way in, finally making his debut in January 1966 at Hull. He quickly made his name as a strong, fast runner, with a very direct style, and a solid defensive technique. The following year he played 21 games, mostly as a winger, but at Wembley coach Gant went for Vaughan Thomas and Kenny Greatorex on the wings and Dave was a non-playing substitute.
From then on, Hartley firmly established himself down the flank, becoming the club’s top try scorer three years on the bounce. In 1969 he scored 13 tries, then 19 tries in 1970 (his best year) and 15 tries in 1971. Two years later Rovers were back at Wembley again, and despite another consistent season which had brought 13 tries in 38 games, Hartley again missed out on the starting line-up at Wembley and was named as substitute, with the wing slots going to youngsters Ken Kellett and Paul Coventry. With five minutes of that famous match left, centre Mick Smith limped off and Hartley got his chance to shine. A bustling run took him close to the line and, despite a Bradford defender treading on his knee as he got up, he tapped the ball to himself and dived over for a try. He had created history by becoming the first substitute ever to score in the Cup final.
In 1974 Rovers were back at Wembley, and Dave Hartley was back at the top of Rovers’ try scoring charts for a fourth time. Peter Fox fielded a much changed side that now featured Graham Bray and Dave Dyas on the wings. Dave Hartley won a place at centre and played the full match. In what condition it’s difficult to say as a disgraceful assault to the head from Alex Murphy at the start of the game incapacitated Hartley seriously for the rest of the afternoon.
Dave’s career continued for two further seasons, amassing 302 games (280 starts plus 22 off the bench), and scoring a grand total of 116 tries. Although that haul was recently overtaken by Andy Kain, Dave remains 8th on our all-time list.