When Featherstone Rovers signed Jackie Fennell from Bagley’s Recs in December 1952, they thought they had signed a future star stand-off. Although he was to have a long and successful career at Post Office Road, things didn’t work out that way. A few months later, Peter Fox’s younger brother Don was signed as a scrum-half. And in the summer of 1953 Rovers took on another youngster who had grown up on Albert Terrace in Sharlston who was fifteen months older than Don. Those three signings provided the backbone of one of Featherstone’s greatest sides.
Joe Mullaney played a single game as an unnamed trialist in a charity match versus Wakefield. He was promptly signed and went straight into the first team in August 1953 under coach Eric Batten. Within a month, Joe’s great friend Don had taken over from Tommy Smales and our greatest half-back partnership ever was formed. The following season Jackie Fennell slotted into full-back and the backline structure that was to serve the club so well for so many years was complete.
Joe’s rise to the top was swift. Within a year he had won county honours for Yorkshire. Within two, his England cap. His representative career never really took off though, due to some inopportune injuries and the handicap of playing at an unfashionable club like Featherstone.
Domestically, Featherstone Rovers carried all before them under Batten then Harold Moxon. Season after season of high league finishes were sprinkled with herculean performances in the Challenge Cup which went down in Rovers folklore. Perhaps the most famous of those was in March 1959 when more than 17,000 fans jammed into the ground to watch Joe lead his team to a famous Cup quarter-final victory over St. Helens. Despite their heroics, it is hard to believe Joe never played at Wembley. His record of four Cup semi-final defeats in 1955, 58, 59 and 60 is a travesty. In the Yorkshire Cup he managed to make a final, captaining the side to win the 1959 competition against Hull.
What made Mullaney such a great stand-off? He had pace, wonderful hands, a side-step, a hand-off and an eye for a gap. He also had a very quick mind which could read a game. He was a very solid tackler and never shirked on defence. As club captain, he led by example and was an inspiration to his team-mates.
In total, Joe played 319 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored 85 tries. He had his benefit year in 1963, a joint award with Don Fox, although truth be told both players deserved their own separate years, such was the service they had given. Injuries forced Joe’s retirement in 1965. Affable, well-mannered and modest off the field, he remained a very popular figure long after he had retired. Joe Mullaney died in December 2015 aged 81.