DFP – Head Script

Legendary quartet join inaugural Leeds Rugby League Hall of Fame

11th May 2017 | 12:00 am

By Leeds Rhinos

The first four inductees into the Leeds Rugby League Hall of Fame have been announced with Cup winning skippers Keith McLennan and David Ward joined by the record breaking pair of Lewis Jones and John Holmes.

WP – In Article MPU

The first four inductees into the Leeds Rugby League Hall of Fame have been announced with Cup winning skippers Keith McLennan and David Ward joined by the record breaking pair of Lewis Jones and John Holmes.

For the first time in the 122 year history of the Leeds Rugby League club, incorporating Leeds Rhinos, the club has unveiled the first four inductees into the formally inaugurated Hall of Fame. 
The criteria for candidates to be considered for the Hall of Fame has been devised and suggested by the Leeds RL Heritage Committee which forms part of the Leeds Rhinos Foundation. 
Each candidate must have satisfied all four criteria to be considered for nomination for the Hall of Fame. The criteria are:

  • Played a minimum of 150 first team games for Leeds
  • Have made an exceptional contribution to rugby in Leeds
  • Achieved representative honours during their playing career
  • Retired for a minimum of 5 years

The first four inductees were announced on Thursday 11th May 2017 at a special dinner to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Challenge Cup win against Barrow and the 40th anniversary of the 1977 Wembley win. 

The four inductees are:

KEITH McLELLAN (Heritage number 882)

Injury-ravaged over the Christmas 1951 matches, of which there were three in five days, there was a sigh of relief around Headingley when Australian centre Keith McLellan arrived early in the New Year. Recommended by compatriot star with Leeds in the late 1920s and his teacher, Frank O’Rourke, the first fans knew of their impending new arrival was when it was reported on the London wires that the Lioners had signed the Eastern Suburbs rugby union player to a ‘life contract’ for a princely £4,000.
The 22-year-old PE teacher from Sydney and his wife, Gwen Maston – sister of sprinter June, who had won a silver medal in the London Olympics with the Australian relay team – arrived at Leeds Central railway station after sailing to Tilbury, to be met with their first glimpses of snow. According to the Australian press, he was, “the strength of the Easts backline. He has the reputation in the club of never having missed a tackle. But his clever, unostentatious work has been overlooked by State and Australian selectors, who have preferred more glamorous types of player.”
A proficient long jumper – having been ranked best in NSW – and triple jumper, he made a try scoring debut in a surprise home defeat to Doncaster in mid-January ’52 but subsequently cemented his reputation as a no-nonsense, unyielding defender, the perfect provider for prolific winger Drew Turnbull. Posting two other tries in his debut campaign, both away defeats, at York and Wakefield, he settled on the staff at Brudnell Secondary Modern School.
He suffered a broken jaw in the 1952-3 pre-season Lazenby Cup match which took two months to heal, returning just before Leeds signed Lewis Jones to partner him in the middle and the pair acted as the perfect foil, McLellan the defensive, driving force to the Welshman’s laid-back grace and finesse. Fiercely determined in all aspects of his life, he was seen as ideal captain’s material in an improving side, earning a cap for the Combined Nationalities who lost 19-15 against France in January 1954.
That season, when he crossed for 12 tries, saw Leeds make the Challenge Cup semi final against Warrington at Swinton but McLellan, crucially, broke down in training in the lead up to the game and his side went down 8-4. The following campaign saw him collect the Yorkshire League trophy, a feat repeated in 1956-7, the year that the he became the first Australian to lead the side out at Wembley.
Without him, it is unlikely Leeds would have made it to the Twin Towers. Scorer of the winning try in a first round epic at home to Wigan, he did likewise at Halifax in the quarter final where his display of leadership – and an audible tongue-lashing of his team mates as his side fell behind early – was exemplary.
He had also scored one of the tries as Leeds memorably beat the Australian tourists in October 1956, their only post-War success against the Kangaroos, in front of over 25,000 fans. His contract finished in December 1958 and his Leeds career ended in prolific fashion, with three tries in consecutive games, finishing in total with 217 points from 215 appearances including a long-range goal, one of five in blue and amber, against the 1955 Kiwis. He also played for an English League XIII in a 19-8 win over France at Headingley in April ’58.

LEWIS JONES (Heritage number 895)

Benjamin Lewis Jones was a marquee player 60 years before the term had been invented. His decision to switch codes was as big a story as Headingley has known. On seven occasions in total, Leeds have broken the world record for a transfer fee between clubs but a- old Welshman and British Lion, who was the darling of the rugby union public in the Principality.
His capture by the Loiners – a club renowned for travelling the extra mile to snare the very best and just beating Warrington to his signature – was as surprising as it was astonishing. Post-War austerity was still prevalent when the Llanelli star hurriedly swapped Gorseinon in South Wales for North Leeds, his unprecedented signing on fee enough to buy three houses at the time.
For that amount, he carried the tag ‘Golden Boy’ but the reference to the precious metal equally applied to his talent. He remains the darling of an era, his talents still spoken of in reverential terms and viewed by many as the greatest ever to pull on the famous blue and amber colours. Variously described as a genius and enigma, unique or infuriating, he attracted 17,000 fans to headquarters for his debut against Keighley.
After an early badly broken arm at Batley – which threatened to permanently derail his new career – he was never anything other than box office and went on to set a host of scoring records. He remains the second highest points scorer and goal kicker in the history of the club – a measure of the achievement of Kevin Sinfield to break both – whilst his official seasonal total of 496 in 1956-57 is still the greatest haul the sport has ever seen. He was a master mesmeriser, guaranteeing almost eight points every time he set foot on a field. With ball in hand, there have been few finer and his hitch kick, floated pass and disguised scissors having gone down in Headingley folklore.
Fans marvelled at his ability to create space for his team mates or to exploit the merest hint of a chance with his acceleration and glide. Seemingly unflappable, elegant, quiet, intense and a wonderful sportsman, he carved his everlasting niche in Loiners history when captaining the side at stand off to their first-ever Championship victory in 1961, fittingly scoring the last try at Odsal, where – with Don Robinson – the pair became the first Leeds players to hold Challenge Cup and title winners’ medals.
At various times a car salesman, groundsman and shopkeeper, he returned from a highly successful player/coaching spell in Australia – where he steered Wentworthville to five second division premierships and posted over 1,000 more points and where is still revered – to train as a maths teacher, taking up a post at Silver Royd Girls High School. He also coached the Leeds ‘A’ team for a season and briefly held the reins at Dewsbury. In 2013 he was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame. The great rugby union journalist Pat Marshall, after whom their premier writer’s award is named, said of Lewis as he switched codes: “His genius lies in the unorthodox – doing the wrong things superbly well and getting away with it.”

DAVID WARD (Heritage Number 1041)

David Ward was just 18 when he won his first title with Leeds, the 1972 Championship. He was almost exactly a year into his first season at the club having signed from Shaw Cross. Such was his prowess and reputation in the junior game that the Loiners had to beat off competition from a number of other clubs to obtain his prized signature. And that faith already seemed to be being repaid as, in his inaugural campaign, he had made 30 appearances, scoring four tries – three of them in four days in wins at Halifax and home to Oldham within a week of his debut – and one goal, in victory at Widnes. But he was not expected to play in the last, defining game of the season.
Left out at Wembley for the experienced Tony Fisher, injury to Bill Ramsey necessitated a reshuffle. Coach Derek Turner had no hesitation, the gnarled Fisher moved across the front row and Ward, with his bubbling enthusiasm and incessant work rate was brought in and he was nerveless in victory. It was the beginning of a wonderful association with silverware for one of the finest skippers the club have ever produced. It would come as no surprise if his middle name was passion.
Even allowing for his hooking skills in an era of contested scrums – he remains one of the last to be dismissed for technical offences – and his distributive prowess in the loose, David Ward was, more than anything, pure Leeds. His sweat dripped blue and amber.  Morley born and Dewsbury rugby educated, the England Schoolboys international spent just over 20 years at Headingley as player and coach, steering the side the nearest they had come to a league title since ’72 with a second-place finish in 1989-90 when in charge. It was a perfect example of his drive, relentless commitment and unwavering belief in his men as he had taken on the job from Malcolm Reilly part way in to the campaign and led from the front in typical standard-bearing manner. It harked back to, arguably, his finest moment as a player, leading his side to a second successive Wembley triumph in 1978.
In that 80 minutes at the Twin Towers, he showed all of his leadership and battling qualities as his side pulled back from a hitherto record deficit to claim the silverware, in no small way thanks to his momentum shifting drop goals. It would have been easy, after success at Swinton to end his first full campaign six years earlier to think that he had made it but complacency was never in his make up and he went on to appear in 14 blue and amber finals, half of them as skipper.
By the end of 1977, he was at the top of his craft which was again a tale of refusing to give in. The year began with his place in doubt and Leeds heavily rumoured to have offered a fee for Featherstone’s international rake Keith Bridges. By season end he was not only getting on a plane to play in the World Cup down under – coming up against France, New Zealand and Australia in the group stages but missing out to Keith Elwell in the final – but was the RFL’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ and inaugural ‘Man of Steel’. He went on to make 12 caps for Great Britain including returning back to the southern hemisphere on the 1979 Lions tour. In total, he played 482 matches for Leeds, crossing for 40 tries and kicked 17 goals, 15 of them drop goals. He spanned the eras, coming on the scene when ball winning was the priority for a hooker to remodelling his game as the main organisational hub at acting half back, adapting to and succeeding at each task. It was the same with his coaching career, taking the Heavy Woollen under 17s to national glory and then the reins at Hunslet in 1986 when retiring as a player. They won the second division title in his first season but were ill-equipped for life in the top flight.
A brief stint with Workington as a player before rejoining as coach of the Hawks and then assistant at Leeds followed.  A long time motel-owner in Birstall, which serves as a function room and base for the local Victoria club of which he is President, he has also hosted a number of overseas players there on their arrival to play in England. He left Headingley for the final time on the arrival of Doug Laughton but there is still no more fiercely proud attendee and singer of the club song at the ex-player’s annual lunch.  

JOHN HOLMES (Heritage number 1022)

There is a perennial debate about how players from different eras compare, it is a lifeblood of sporting chat but ultimately fruitless. What is generally agreed is that, irrespective of changes to rules and tactics, class is permanent and ultimately transferable. What is indisputable is that there are generational players, names that are reverentially passed down in hushed tones that represent an era.
By the early 70s, Fred Webster, Joe Thompson, Eric Harris, Arthur Clues and Lewis Jones had been accorded such blue and amber status. Destined to join them was a Kirkstall-born and raised immensely modest but extraordinarily talented teenage full-back who had taken over from the injured Bev Risman.
Aside from two Yorkshire Cup successes, including picking up the White Rose Trophy for an imperious, hat-trick performance to down Dewsbury earlier in 1972, John Holmes had only tasted heartbreak in major finals.
The 1970 Championship decider had gone the way of St Helens and consecutive Wembley defeats had seen dreams dashed by first Leigh and then Saints again. John’s story is picked up in the pages of his biography, ‘Reluctant Hero’ penned by his brother Phil and namesake nephew, written in commemoration of his stellar career and life after his desperately sad, premature passing in 2009 – of which the following is an amended extract.
“The following week, Leeds were on a hiding to nothing. In the Championship ?nal they faced an immediate repeat of the Twin Towers encounter. Saints were full of con?dence, Leeds were seemingly full of reserves. One player to grab a shirt for his ?rst ?nal was David Ward. When the hooker had initially heard the name John Holmes he was playing for Shaw Cross Falcons. It was an under-17s match against Kirkstall Boys. David was 15 and his brothers in arms, who had faced John before, were very anxious. ‘There’s nothing for us this week. Holmesy’ll kill us,’ they said. David could not wait to play but when matchday arrived, the word was that this Holmes kid had signed for Leeds and so could not play. Two years later and the bristling hooker got to see John Holmes up close. In terms of team evolution, the old guard were just beyond their peak and the next group were coming together. John already had David’s respect as he had his ?rst team peg.  
The Loiners were huge underdogs. Before the game, the changing room was quiet but con?dent. The young guns looked around at each other and knew they could play the game. There was a good spirit among the predominantly second-teamers. It did not matter who the opposition were, where they were playing or what the occasion was. Call it arrogance or ignorance, it did not matter. Leeds still needed their experienced campaigners to step up, though, an obligation which Terry Clawson, in particular, ful?lled. It was a wonderful performance against the odds and the Leeds side included eight players who had come through the ranks at Headingley. Dave Hick was one of the happiest members of the squad despite only making the team as a substitute. Regular match pay at the time was £20 for a win and only £6 for a loss. With tax being a third of anything earned, it meant that defeat would see each player taking home the princely sum of £4. The only scenario worse than that was as a bench warmer. A player might have to knock off work early and yet if he did not get on the pitch, there was no money paid.
The directors would occasionally visit the changing room with offers such as ten bob a point for each player in games against the likes of lowly Doncaster, or a half-time increase of a ?ver a man if the team were losing a big game. Dave Hick was hugely grateful to see the young full-back heading towards the touchline in that final to be replaced with a handful of minutes to go – despite it still be delicately poised – allowing him to pick up, not just a winner’s medal, but also the accompanying bonus.”
John’s first gold medal on the biggest stage was at the beginning of a career for which the word illustrious seems insufficient, his total of 625 appearances for his only club being a record that is unlikely to be surpassed. In all he played in nineteen Finals emerging victorious on fourteen occasions and in total he totted up 1554 points. He gained a winners medal in every major competition and was cruelly denied the Lance Todd Trophy at Wembley in 1978 when many felt he had his finest hour dragging Leeds back from the brink against St Helens. His contribution to the club and the cause was unquenchable and perhaps best illustrated in one of his final appearances when he took a virtual 'A' team to Knowsley Road and fashioned a sensational against-the-odds win. 
A World Cup winner in 1972, a double testimonial at the club he so cherished and served in all the back line positions and occasionally back row, said everything. Loyal, fearless, humble and brave, John Holmes was and always will be ‘Mr Leeds Rugby League.’
The Heritage Committee will each year nominate four candidates to the Board of Directors of Leeds Rhinos for the Leeds CF&A board to make the final decision.