When Peter Fox brought Rovers out of the old second division in 1988, he recognised we needed a few reinforcements to survive in the top flight. Nowadays, this involves ramming your squad full of the maximum quota of overseas imports. Back then, it was possible to cast a discerning eye over the lower division and pick up some talented players capable of taking the step up. Rovers had previously successfully done this with the likes of Karl Harrison (Bramley) and Graham Steadman (York), two players signed from the second division who went on to enjoy international careers.
Hoping to emulate this transfer market success, Rovers went on a little shopping expedition to Lawkholme Lane as it was then called and came back with Terry Manning. Terry had started his rugby career at Elland, turning professional in 1987. He played 61 games for Keighley, scoring 29 tries and had the kind of bustling style that Fox saw as the perfect foil to Paul Newlove in our centres. He signed for Featherstone in October 1989 and cost £40,000. Difficult to tackle, with good upper body strength, Terry’s style was not classical but very effective. He formed an integral part of a three-quarter line of Butt-Manning-Newlove-Simpson that was as good as any that the club has put together.
So happy were we with Manning that in a couple of months we were back at Keighley and acquired second-rower Gary Rose. To be honest, none of the typical cliché descriptions of rugby league forwards, “rugged”, “pugnacious”, “tough”, would be quite enough to explain Gary Rose’s impact on a rugby league field. He had been at Keighley for two years, signing from Yew Tree ARLC, and had played 46 games for Keighley. He slotted straight into the Rovers team, and just as quickly into the hearts of Rovers fans. Once his eccentric ball-carrying style had been corrected, he turned into a strong runner and very willing defender, making sure Rovers pack was never intimidated out of any encounter.
Within the year, Rovers snaffled up Owen Simpson, the archetypal flying wingman who had been a professional at Keighley just over a year, scoring 32 tries in 38 games. A try on his debut against Castleford gave us an immediate taste of things to come. His lethal combination with Paul Newlove down the left flank was so prolific that the try scoring records soon tumbled.
These three players had cost a total of £110,000, and what tremendous value for money they gave to Featherstone. Terry Manning’s career spanned five highly consistent seasons, chalking up 159 appearances, and managing 46 tries. After Rovers, he served both Doncaster and Hull. Gary Rose was with Rovers four years, and with his swashbuckling style he played 106 games and notched 5 tries. Improbably enough he then signed for Leeds, his uncompromising style never seemed cut out for the game’s snobbiest club. However, he won his spurs at Headingley, and later played for Hull. Owen Simpson graced the Featherstone wing over seven seasons though serious injury curtailed the latter part of his career. In 158 games, he scored 98 tries, finishing just short of that magical ton.