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

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Richard Slater

Following in the footsteps of Brendon Tuuta would be a daunting prospect for any loose forward. Joining a club amidst the trauma of enforced demotion from the Super League would be equally onerous. But the hard-working Richard Slater was unfazed by this background noise, and gave four years of solid service to Featherstone Rovers from 1995 to 1999.

Richard Slater
Born in Normanton, Richard Slater signed for Wakefield Trinity as a teenager. He quickly made his mark there, playing the Yorkshire Cup final in 1992 and representing Great Britain Under 21s. He played alongside future Rovers player and coach Gary H. Price and also Australian legend Ray Price, who once memorably described young Slater as ‘pound for pound, the best tackler in the league’. He played a total of 134 games at the Belle Vue club, and when he became available, Rovers snapped him up for a considerable fee. He made his debut on the 1st of November 1995 in the most inauspicious fashion, a midweek game at home to Rochdale during the much disliked centenary season. Rovers contrived to lose the game 24-16 although Slater did score the only try for Rovers that evening.

From then on, he offered a model of consistency during a turbulent period both for the club and the sport as a whole. His forte was his tackling, a classic round-the-legs technique which never failed him. Defending in the middle, he always got through a lot of work, although not the biggest of forwards. In the first summer season, he missed just two games, and packed down behind a very experienced second-row combination of Roy Powell and Jon Sharp. During the following season, he lost his place following a knee injury, and Danny Evans filled in for the rest of the season so successfully that Slater found it hard to break back into the team. In 1998 he was back as first choice pick at loose forward and had another hard-working campaign which resulted in Rovers coming within a cat’s whisker of super league, only to be denied by Richard’s former club Wakefield.

For the 1999 season, Rovers re-signed kiwi loose forward and local hero Brendon Tuuta, but Slater kept his place at the back of the scrum, with Tuuta now operating at second-row, and even occasionally at prop. At the end of the 1999 season and after four years of sterling service, Slater moved on to Hull Kingston Rovers where he spent a couple of years, before finishing with two seasons at Dewsbury. In total he played 111 games for Featherstone and scored a modest 12 tries.

In some ways, Slater’s departure and the subsequent retirement a few years later of Danny Evans marked the end of the old-fashioned role of the loose forward. From then on, ever more prevalent were coaching tactics that included a third prop at the back of the scrum. The ball handling skills of previous generations of number thirteens were now the preserve of half-backs and hookers at acting half-back, and the loose forward role became less distinguishable from that of prop or second-row.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Brendon Tuuta

Hailing from the Chatham Islands, Brendon Tuuta played much of his junior rugby in the Canterbury region of New Zealand before treading the well-worn path of young Kiwis to the ARL in Sydney. There he signed for Western Suburbs and played for them for two seasons, sharing the loose forward role with Ellery Hanley. In the summer of 1989 he made his test debut for New Zealand against Australia, whacked Wally Lewis, and his hot-head “baby-faced assassin” reputation was firmly established in the Sydney press. It was something Brendon himself never liked as, although no-one who ever saw him play would accuse him of lacking aggression or enthusiasm, there was far more to his game than this lazy ‘hit-man’ image the media had created for him.

Brendon Tuuta
Brendon arrived at Featherstone in the autumn of 1990, already known to English fans for his performances on the 1989 Kiwi tour, not least against Rovers themselves when the Kiwis won 44-20. Initially signed on a short-term off-season contract, his impact at Featherstone and his rapid adaptation to local life was such that this short sojourn became a five year love affair with the club and its fans.

Smaller in stature than the majority of rugby league forwards, Brendon always ran and tackled well about his weight and enjoyed nothing better than being in the thick of the action. His fearless disregard for his own well-being in the cause of the team was what ultimately endeared him to the fans. When Rovers were surprisingly relegated in 1992, writer Dave Hadfield memorably described the following Divison1 season without Brendon Tuuta like “a hotdog without the mustard”. As a ball handler, he was also a skilful distributor and line breaker as extended spells at stand-off attest. On such occasions the loose forward shirt was filled by Ian Smales, Tim Sharp and later Neil Roebuck. His tackling style inevitably led to occasional red cards and suspensions, an occupational hazard for such a combative character.

Having helped the club back into the top flight and played at old Trafford in the Premiership Final, Tuuta came close to a Wembley appearance in 1995 when we were beaten at the semi-final hurdle by Leeds. All good things come to an end, and when Rovers were compulsorily demoted that summer, Brendon moved on, firstly to Castleford where he spent three seasons, then a further year at Warrington. Having decided to retire at the end of the 1998 season, he was persuaded to give one last year to his favourite club, and played the 1999 season with the same infectious enthusiasm with which he always played. After retiring, he was elected to the Featherstone Rovers Hall of Fame. He played a total of 177 games for Rovers, and scored 32 tries. He also won 16 New Zealand caps, the majority of them as a Rovers player.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Paul Lyman

Featherstone's loose forward at Wembley in 1983 was Peter Smith, who offered yet another wonderful exhibition of loose forward play on the biggest stage, a master of his craft. Paul Lyman was a just fresh faced seventeen year old, used as a first half substitute in the centres that afternoon after John Gilbert’s injury. The young apprentice would quickly learn from the master though.

Paul Lyman
Within a couple of years of that fairy-tale start to his career, Lyman was good enough to fill Smith’s boots at loose forward for Featherstone Rovers. He went on to become one of the most talented players that the club produced in the 1980s. Like many promising youngsters, his pedigree in the game was impeccable. Both his father Barry and his grandfather Ray had played for Featherstone. Paul signed for his hometown club on his 17th birthday in 1982, but he could have hardly dreamed about how quickly his career would take off. That Wembley final was only his tenth game for the club.
Paul’s career developed in the ensuing seasons, as Rovers, with Smith suffering from a long-term injury, searched for new back-row talent. In his first full season he was limited to 16 games, just seven of which were at loose forward. This was due to Terry Hudson switching from scrum-half to the back of the scrum. But the following year, Lyman gradually took over from Hudson and made the number thirteen jersey his own. Paul had his own unique style, ideally suited to the duties of a loose forward. He was a strong runner, especially onto Deryck Fox’s passes, he could break the line regularly with his strength and his side-step. He was also blessed with sufficient pace to finish many of those breaks himself. On defence, he was a copybook cover tackler. He won county honours as a substitute in 1985, and the following year he marked his full Yorkshire debut with a trademark try against Lancashire.
One of his finest matches was a Cup game against Widnes when, despite some fearful punishment from a bruising Widnes pack, he scored a magnificent hatrick in an honourable defeat. At the end of that season he scored the all-important match-equalling try as Rovers stayed up in a heroic performance against Champions-elect Halifax. 
In the autumn of 1986 he was selected for the Great Britain squad to play the touring Kangaroos, but bafflingly he was discarded without getting a chance to show his skills. Unfortunately, that was the closest he came to full international honours after having won Under 21 caps earlier. Undeterred, Paul continued to score consistently over the next two years, including 17 tries in our promotion year of 1988.
From then on he was troubled by a persistent knee injury, and in the end it was good business for Featherstone that saw him transfer to Hull KR in exchange for a hefty fee and Chris Burton in 1989. He gave Hull KR good service over four seasons playing 99 games. For Featherstone, Paul Lyman played a total of 159 games and scored 62 tries.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Peter Smith

Peter Smith’s achievements at Featherstone Rovers make him one of the most revered figures to have ever pulled on the blue & white jersey. His career spanned an astonishing seventeen years, involved overcoming crippling injuries and was sprinkled with top honours, both domestic and international. His name became a byword for all the very best things about rugby league.

Peter Smith
He made his debut as a rangy but durable looking second-row forward in January 1974 against Rochdale and immediately made an impact with his dedication and enormous appetite for work. He always took the ball in strongly, running straight and true. On defence, he was simply magnificent. Peter Smith was the best tackler this writer has ever seen. An ideal trainer, who rarely if ever gave away penalties he was quickly marked out as a model professional and a coach’s dream. Although he was a substitute in the 1974 Cup semi-final he did not make the fifteen at Wembley. He would have to wait a further nine seasons for his date at the twin towers. Before then he picked up a Championship medal with Rovers in 1977, finishing that year as the club’s leading try scorer with twenty. That same summer he was selected in the England World Cup party, playing in the 1977 World Cup Final against Australia.

At the height of his powers, aged 27, and fresh from his finest hour, our 1983 Cup win at Wembley, Peter suffered a serious back injury whilst training with the Great Britain squad. The injury and its consequences decimated the next three years and threatened to bring an outstanding career to a premature conclusion. He manged about a dozen games in those three years, as injuries, comebacks and further setbacks dogged his progress. Finally in 1986, which happened to be his testimonial year, he got back to full fitness, and gave Rovers three more tremendous seasons. At this stage, his incredible tackling and work-rate were supplemented by the nous and experience of having spent so many years at the top of the sport. Peter had a year in the second division when he set a new try scoring record for a forward at Featherstone with 21. His international honours stood at six Great Britain caps, scant reward for one of the best forwards of his generation. He was also capped by England and Yorkshire.

Soon after appearing in the 1989 Yorkshire Cup final (his third), and scoring a trademark try against Bradford, another injury forced him to call time on a fantastic Featherstone career which had spanned some 419 matches. His 110 tries were the most ever by a forward at Featherstone. How much higher could those figures have been but for that injury-plagued spell?

Surprisingly for such a dedicated one club player, a year after retiring Peter helped out at the newly formed Scarborough Pirates, and, ever the professional, gave the Pirates good service during 1991/92 aged 36.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Charlie Stone

Although Featherstone Rovers have produced a host of great forwards throughout their history, it’s hard to think of a better combination of talents than our Championship winning pack of 1977. The front row of Thompson, Bridges and Farrar could strike fear into any opposition. The back row of Stone, Smith and Bell contained three players who offered the forward drive, exemplary tackling and ball handling skills which made them all capable of playing in the loose forward role. 

Charlie Stone
As the local area is such a hotbed of rugby league, it has been a rare occurrence for Featherstone Rovers to need to raid rugby union for players. Indeed, most of the players at Old Promfetians RUFC (what a name!) would have been pretty familiar with the thirteen–a-side code despite preferring to play Union. It was at this Pontefract based club where young Charlie Stone was playing when Rovers signed him up in October 1970. After three first team games, in which is looked a promising prospect, he promptly returned his signing–on fee to the club and went back to playing rugby union! The following season though he came back to Featherstone, under new coach Peter Fox, and this talented young back-row forward flourished from then on.

Charlie Stone was a big but mobile forward, with a good turn of pace. He could handle the ball well, and relished his eighty minute tackling stints. Little wonder then that he became an integral part of that much vaunted Rovers pack which took Featherstone to Wembley twice and to the top of the rugby league ladder in 1977. Throughout that period, Charlie Stone was a constant figure. In the 1973 final he played loose forward. In the 1974 final, he was substitute forward, coming on for Jimmy Thompson. In our Championship season of 1976/77 he operated mostly at loose forward and the year after, Charlie played more at second-row with Keith Bell at thirteen. 

No sooner had we won the league than that wonderful pack began to disintegrate. Thompson and Bridges went to Bradford and in the summer of 1978 Stone followed Vince Farrar to Hull. Also there was Stone’s brother-in-law John Newlove and later Keith Bridges. Hull FC enjoyed a lot of success using that strong Featherstone connection. Charlie added three more Wembley appearances to his record, by then playing mostly at prop. After losing the 1980 final, he won the Cup with Hull in 1982 but lost again in 1983 in a famous Featherstone victory! He also picked up a Championship medal with Hull that year. During the summer Charlie came back to Featherstone and played one final year under Allan Agar, rolling back the years with some vintage displays at prop forward. After a season at Bradford, again under Peter Fox, he retired in 1985. 
Five Challenge Cup finals, two Championships with different clubs, and numerous other finals in more than a decade of top flight of rugby league, Charlie Stone enjoyed an admirable career. He played a total of 263 games for Featherstone and scored 26 tries.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Keith Bell

When Featherstone Rovers signed up local youngster Keith Bell in 1971, there was no doubt that they had secured a future star of impeccable pedigree. Keith was the youngest son of 1930s centre Jimmy Bell, who was Rovers groundsman and kit manager in the 1960s. Keith therefore followed in the footsteps of his father and his three older brothers Roy, Peter and John into Featherstone’s team when he made his try-scoring debut in November 1971. What could not have been predicted was how his exploits over the next nineteen years would eclipse those of all the rest of his family and many more besides.
Keith Bell
Initially a hooker, Bell stated out as the understudy to Keith Bridges in the early days of his career, but, under the guidance of coach Peter Fox, he gradually established himself in a formidable pack as a ball-handling loose forward. So successful was he in his new role that he kept his place at number thirteen as Rovers went all the way to Wembley for the 1974 Challenge Cup final. Despite Rovers’ poor display there, it was the first early honour for young Keith. His sublime handling skills and keen rugby brain were ideally suited to the role at the base of the scrum, and within three seasons Keith had picked up a Championship medal, integral part of arguably Rovers best ever pack of forwards: Thompson, Bridges, Farrar, Smith, Stone and Bell. He won county caps for Yorkshire and also appeared for Great Britain under 24s. When four of that famous Champion pack was sold, it was just Bell and Peter Smith who remained at Post Office Road and helped to rebuild the club’s fortunes.

Despite the value of a drop goal being reduced to one point in 1973 Keith was well aware of how vital those one-pointers could be, kicking a total of 67 in his career (this is still a club record). He proved his true worth to the club in the period between 1983 and 1985 when, although a senior member of the team, he didn’t play much first team rugby, and indeed he missed out on our famous 1983 Wembley triumph, being a travelling reserve. But Keith buckled down, and captained the A team with the same shrewdness and tenacity he had always shown for the first team. And when Peter Fox came back to the club in 1987, Keith enjoyed his swansong, filling in at hooker during our 1988 Promotion season. Keith was one of only two players, along with Peter Smith, whose career spanned the two coaching stints at the club by Peter Fox.

Keith Bell was awarded a benefit season in 1984/5 which coincided unfortunately with the miners’ strike. His final tally of 417 games has been bettered by only four other players in the history of the club. After finishing at Rovers in 1990 he played a couple of years at Hunslet before hanging up his boots at the age of 39. Since then he has been involved with coaching and management at Featherstone Lions.

Few players in Featherstone Rovers’ history can claim to have offered more service to the club than Keith, a legendary servant of the club.