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

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Les Tonks



With club skipper Malcolm Dixon firmly established in one of the prop forward berths, alongside him emerged another giant of our club’s history. Les Tonks made his Featherstone debut in September 1961 and within three years had seen off the challenge of Abe Terry and Len Hammill to establish himself as first choice in the front row alongside his skipper. After that, it was unusual to see a Rovers line up without the names of Dixon and Tonks at eight and ten, though they were sometimes helped out by Arnie Morgan who, although primarily a known as a back rower, did play plenty of rugby at prop throughout his career. At over six feet tall and a playing weight of 18 stones, Dixon was a big man, but Les Tonks weighed in just that bit taller and even heavier. There was no lack of push then in the Rovers scrum during this period when size and bulk were all important. Les counteracted the possibility of fatigue by reading the game well and conserving energy over the full eighty minutes, in an era where substitutions other than for injury were unheard of. 

Having played regularly from 1964 onwards Les must have been disappointed to miss out on a place in the 1966 Yorkshire Cup final team to new arrival Colin Forsyth, who was making a name for himself. Forsyth went on to make 26 starts during that 1966/67 season. But come our famous date at Wembley the following May it was Tonks who got the nod. After that, there was a challenge from another up and coming youngster Steve Lyons, which threatened Tonks’ place. An under-rated clubman, Steve never let the side down without ever really claiming a prop forward spot as his own. Nevertheless he made a respectable 119 appearances from 1966 to 1972. It was Les Tonks who played in the 1969 Yorkshire Cup final but he missed the 1970 final when Lyons and Sam Windmill were chosen. Tonks even spent part of that season out on loan at Hull KR. He decided not to take up an option to stay with the Robins permanently and that proved a wise move for himself and very fortuitous for Featherstone Rovers, as for the next four years he was a model of consistency and went back to Wembley twice for Cup finals in 1973 and 1974. When coach Peter Fox left Featherstone for Wakefield after the 74 final Les Tonks followed him to Belle Vue, where he played out his career. After a total of 307 first team games for Rovers, he left a lasting impression on the fans as a whole-hearted player who had given much to the club.

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