Born at Abercarn on 21st January 1908, and quick to claim county honours at schoolboy level in both rugby and cricket as his Monmouthshire birthright, Raymond (Dicky) Ralph burst on to the international scene in 1931, his double-try debut at Swansea’s St Helen’s ground rousing Wales to a runaway 35 – 3 victory over France. Capped on five further occasions, by the time he decided to make the trek north in August ’33 his genius had made such an impact in the valleys, and particularly on Newport’s Rodney Parade, that the Leeds Mercury hailed the signing of the 25-year-old schoolmaster from Caerleon as the biggest capture by the Rugby League since centre Jerry Shea went from Newport to Wigan in the Twenties.
Expectations were high, the yoke of responsibility extremely heavy, for he was to have behind him a makeshift threequarter line denuded in the centre by the close-season transfer of Jeff Moores to York and destined to be weakened still further by Frank O’Rourke’s impending departure to take up a scholastic appointment in Australia. Even so, despite the additional problem of striking up a chalk-and-cheese partnership with scrum-half ‘Chimpy’ Busch, Dicky settled in remarkably well, marshalling his depleted back division, pending the arrival of Gwyn Parker and Stan Brogden from Huddersfield, with such composure and resource that the Loiners ended the campaign with considerable credit as Yorkshire League Champions and losing semi-finalists to Wigan in the ‘First Four’ play-off.
Of many outstanding performances during his second season at Headingley, none was more crucial than his dramatic intervention at Fartown in the 1934 Yorkshire Cup Final replay … barely jour minutes to go, with do-or-die Trinity clinging on desperately to their two-point lead … a seething hotbed of a scrum inside the Wakefield ’25’ … a penalty to Leeds, way out on the touchline, and Jim Brough decides to go for goal … two points it looks all the way, too, alas only to rebound off the near post … a frantic scramble … now another scrum … oh, no! … Wakefield have it, and full-back Bonner’s clearance surely spells the Loiners’ doom, with the sands oftimejast running out … but wait, all is not yet lost, for there is Dicky Ralph fielding the ball so coolly .. . a glance at the posts, and over it goes, clean as could be, a dream of a drop-goal! Another draw! And seven days later, at Parkside, a winner’s medal.
Always prepared to oblige with an encore, even to the point of making it a habit if need be, he popped up again the following October to save the day with a late drop-goal equaliser in the Yorkshire Cup Semi-Final at The Boulevard; and then proceeded to make light of atrocious conditions in the replay, his masterly exhibition of elusive running, immaculate handling and terrier-like tackling, putting Leeds through by 15 points to 3 on their way to retaining the Cup for a second year.
Moreover, that was merely the prelude to 1935-36 for the best was yet to be, Dicky coming into his own to display all the arts of stand-off play as the Loiners headed down their triumphant Wembley trail with vintage rugby, richly embroidered on memory’s tapestry of time. To Eric Harris and Fred went the adulation, and rightly so, for their try-scoring wizardry; yet forget not the men up front in the boiler-house, who supplied the ball, nor Evan Williams, Dicky Ralph and Gwyn Parker, on the conveyor belt, whose superbly timed tailor-made passes, acute positional sense and shrewd tactical awareness, made all things possible.
Not for Dicky, with his spring-heeled loping glide, the dazzling ego-trips of searing pace; rather the subtle ploys, born of finesse, to release his backs from bondage. A distributor par excellence, with a flair for creating and exploiting the vital half-break, it was surely more than mere coincidence that centres thrived and wingers prospered during his sojourn at Headingley. There was no lack of silverware either, two Yorkshire Challenge Cups, two Yorkshire Championship Cups and one Rugby League Challenge Cup representing a fair tally, but the restless quest for the Holy Grail, the League Championship, required that he should make way for others, so off he went to Batley in 1937, with Vic Hey already pencilled in as his successor.
It was little wonder, then, that a Yorkshire Cup Semi-Final confrontation with Batley on 13th October 1937 aroused tremendous interest at Headingley. Vic Hey’ll murder ‘im! … Ralph? He won’t see which way Hey goes! … A good big ‘un will beat a good little ‘un any day! Not if cool courage and skill could prevent it! Rising to the occasion valiantly, and spurring on the Gallant Youths with a splendid drop-goal, reminiscent of those at Fartown and The Boulevard, Dicky played one of the games of his life, keeping the 13 foot 12-stone Australian on such a tight rein that the score stood at 5 – 5, with the Loiners on tenterhooks and the result hanging on a thread, until Cliff Whitehead squeezed over for the winning try just five minutes from time. Four years earlier, when Dicky made his solitary appearance in a R.L. International, the Australians, Hey included, had romped home against the Welsh at Wembley by 51 points to 19. Now honour was redeemed, albeit in defeat.
Ralph, a delightful footballer, is a scrum-half in these days. It seems a long way back to the time when in the red jersey of Wales he ran so brilliantly against England on the St Helen’s ground at Swansea. In those days he was an off-half of the highest class. Now he has moved nearer the scrummage and taken with him all his clean handling skill and sure passing. Such was the press tribute when he graced Headingley for the last time on 27th December 1938, Batley going down gallantly by the odd point in nine.
Reluctant as he may have been to hang up his boots in September 1939, the outbreak of hostilities opened up fresh fields and pastures new, a move from Hunslet Moor School taking him to Thorp Arch Grange Approved School, where he was to serve for twenty-three years as Principal Teacher and a further four as Headmaster, prior to his retirement in 1968.