Born on 11th November 1943 and educated at Crigglestone School, where he became captain of rugby, Bob Haigh’s progress from callow youth to full blown professional was monitored from the day he first turned out for Wakefield City Boys, Trinity keeping the tabs on him in their junior and intermediate teams, prior to signing him in 1962 as a potential successor one day to loose-forward Derek Turner. Circumstances, however, decreed otherwise; but Bob had no cause for complaint on that account, for within a couple of years he was established as an all-action second-rower in a rejigged pack and destined to play an increasingly dominant role as the Belle Vue men got their second wind for another cycle of success.
Naturally, with medals on the chest and recognition as one of the finest cover tacklers in the game, representative honours were not long delayed, games against France and Australia in the 1968 World Cup being followed by a debut for Yorkshire versus Cumberland in October ’69 and three internationals in the England jersey. All the more galling, therefore, was his omission from the 1970 Tour; all the more welcome, a new challenge, for it was in April of that year that the Headingley management once again availed themselves of the Wakefield connection, with coach Derek Turner happy to recruit a former colleague of proven ability. The fee was £6,000 down, unlike the verdict of the supporters which was deferred for four months pending the start of the new season.
The verdict was never in doubt! A try against Featherstone Rovers in the first match of the season, a hat-trick four days later against Widnes, a fifth the following weekend against Trinity. The Batten-Haigh merger was soon in business in a big way, with Ray the managing director of the fiddling and diddling department, whilst Bob, a strong-running go-getter in his own right, was ever quick to read his partner’s mind and capitalise on the utter confusion of bewildered opponents.
Five tries in the first week! And so many more to come off the conveyor belt as Bob established a new record for a Rugby League forward, surpassing the thirty-six credited to Hull’s Bob Taylor way back in 1925-26.
Had he achieved nothing more than that during 1970-71, his season would have been memorable enough. As it was, he made a couple of appearances with Great Britain in the World Cup, and a third versus France at Toulouse; helped Yorkshire to trounce Lancashire by 32 points to 12 at Wheldon Road; and collected winner’s medals in the Yorkshire Cup and BBC 2 Floodlit Competition. Yet, team-man that he always was, there is no telling what he would have given for a Wembley victory over Leigh. Quite a few of those forty tries, I guess!
Whatever plans opposing teams had already drawn up to contain him in 1971-72, it was Dame Misfortune who nailed him in October in the 2nd Test versus New Zealand at Wheldon Road, a fractured arm putting him out of action for five months and plaguing him for considerably longer, as his record confirms.
Even so, for all his appearances were somewhat restricted, he featured prominently in four more Finals: Wembley in 1972, with yet more anguish as a third-time loser; the John Player win over Salford in 1973, followed by that traumatic Championship defeat at the hands of Dewsbury; and finally, at loose-forward, the Premiership victory over St Helens in 1975, by which time he had apparently regained all his former drive, confidence and enthusiasm.
Consequently, his decision to call it a day midway through 1975-76 seemed somewhat hasty. And so it proved. Lured out of retirement by Bradford Northern, and transferred by Leeds for a nominal fee, Bob took on a new lease of life, the Odsal men responding to his inspired man-of-the-match displays to win both the 1977-78 Premiership and the Yorkshire Cup the following season.