With the retirement of Ken Kellett in 1983, a new generation of Rovers wingmen came through. However, it was a time with quite a few changes in the coaching staff, and so there was a similarly rapid turnover of players.One of the longest serving wingmen of the period was Richard Marsh, who played 123 games from 1981 to 1988. Richard was a quiet achiever, rarely grabbing the headlines, but he served the side well and finished as the club’s top try scorer in 1984 after taking over Ken Kellett’s left wing spot. That same year on the opposite wing to Richard was David Barends. David had come over to England from South Africa where the Apartheid system ensured his rugby talents would never be appreciated. He was a popular character at Post Office Road, although he was coming to the end of a career that had included, oddly enough for a South African, two Great Britain caps. After Barends came local youngster Neil Woolford, who arrived with the best of credentials, the son of 50’s legend Cyril. The weight of expectation was always on Neil’s shoulders but he made his own way, playing 45 games.
One of my favourite players from the 80’s was Calvin Hopkins. Built more like a second-rower, Calvin was just the kind of wholehearted, uncompromising competitor the fans loved. He played 70 games from 1984 to 1987, topping the try charts in 1985. No respecter of reputations, he was never happier than getting stuck into his opposition number. This excellent photo by Eric Lorriman shows Calvin in full gladiatorial mode about to enter the arena. Many other players were tried out on the wing but failed to make a lasting impact although you may remember names such as Joe Bardgett, Danny Beach, David Jones and Dave Sykes.
There were two particular players who had the briefest of careers but nevertheless stuck in my memory. One was Andy Bannister. Small but nippy, Andy was brought into the first team for the last four games of the 1988 promotion season and went to the Premiership final at Old Trafford where he scored a superb individual try in our amazing comeback against Oldham. He seemed set for a decent career but never played again.
The other was Mark Knapper, who made his debut in 1989 and played for long enough to write his name into the record books for most goals in a match. His 13 goals against Keighley in 1989 came in only his third ever game. He also won a special place in our hearts for kicking a last minute touchline conversion to beat Castleford in the Yorkshire Cup semi-final that same year. He unfortunately missed the final through injury and his place went to Barry Drummond. Knapper’s career spanned just 15 appearances but he’ll always be remembered for that kick.