On this Day – 27th March

ON THIS DAY in 1961 Leeds legend Ellery Hanley was born. Leeds born Ellery began his rugby career at Bradford Northern, where he was signed in 1978 and three seasons later made his debut against Halifax. Between 1984-85 Ellery scored 55 tries, the first player to do this since Billy Boston in the sixties. The following season he joined Wigan, for a record transfer at the time – £150,000 and proved he was worth every penny with 63 tries that season. Ellery Hanley’s spiritual homecoming to Headingley in September 1991, for a world record fee for a forward – £250000, galvanised both players and fans of Leeds.

One of the most decorated players in the history of the game, his arrival even at the age of thirty was greeted with joy and acclaim and over the next four years the hero of his generation did not disappoint. Signed as player/coach under Dougie Laughton, he immediately set about instilling the kind of professional standards that characterized his prodigious career at Bradford, Wigan, Balmain, Wests and of course Great Britain. A charismatic leader, who gained the utmost and total respect from his team mates, he became a mentor to the first crop of top quality junior talent to come through the ranks at Headingley. His bravery, tenacity and indefatigable attitude were inspirational whilst his uncanny ability to support play at the telling moment carried the mark of genius.

Exceptional upper body strength made him almost impossible to tackle and gave him the power to constantly drive opponents into the ground with the ferocity of his own defence. His exceptional vision and ability to read and shape play saw him register 106 tries in 104 matches, a phenomenal strike rate which contained a new world record for a forward of 41 in a season during 1994-95. Twice he took Leeds to Wembley in consecutive years, his display of defiance and refusal to concede an inch in the epic Cup Semi Final against St Helens in 1994 at Central Park standing out as a golden moment. Having absorbed a terrific pounding marshalling heroic last ditch defence, he crowned a magnificent display with two majestic tries to put the club back on the big stage for the first time in sixteen years.

On many occasions he defied the pain barrier to come up with crucial plays in key games as respect was brought back into the wearing of the blue and amber. His enigmatic off field presence served only to enhance his mystique but in the dressing room he reigned supreme cajoling and lifting team mates with a choice word. He has always retained great affection for the city of his birth and schooling at Corpus Christi and he left a vital legacy when he returned to Australia at the onset of Super League. When elevated to coach of Great Britain in 1994, he commissioned a motivational video for his players to the song, ‘Search for a hero’. For four glorious seasons he answered that same call for the Leeds fans. Ellery was rightly rewarded with a Great Britain call up on 36 occasions and in the 1984 tour of Australia scored an amazing 12 tries in 17 appearances. In 1988 he became Great Britain captain and scored 8 tries to help Great Britain to their first Test win over Australia for 10 seasons. With Wigan Ellery won every honour in the game and captained the side to three successive Challenge Cup final victories.

On leaving Leeds in 1995 Ellery went to Australia where he ended his playing career. His natural leadership skills then took him into coaching, firstly with St Helens where he continued his success in his new role by leading Saints to a Super League title. When Ellery left St Helens, he had spells in Rugby Union with Bristol, Bath and England and also made a brief cameo appearance at Castleford in 2004.