Born at Castleford in 1932, and put through his paces at St Joseph’s School, Don went on to play at centre and loose-forward with Fryston Colliery and Kippax, before his storming second-row displays with Newmarket attracted the attention of the Wakefield committee, for whom he signed professional forms shortly before Christmas 1949. The ‘A’ team apprenticeship was brief, his promotion an immediate success, with senior status assured from the moment he burst on the scene on March 1st in a Challenge Cup 2nd Round replay at Crown Flatt. Yet, for all his exceptional physique, would the 18-year old burn himself out in a few meteoric flashes of brilliance? Was he strong enough, mature enough, good enough, and therefore old enough, to take on all-comers match after match? Any lingering doubts were dispelled as he breezed through 1951-52: a try and a winner’s medal in the Yorkshire Cup Final against Keighley; reserve for Great Britain versus New Zealand; an England debut in Marseilles, followed by a first appearance in Yorkshire’s colours; and top of Trinity’s try-scoring list with 21. A star in the making surely, rather than a meteor!
He didn’t exactly let his 21st birthday go unnoticed either, collecting a medal as a member of Yorkshire’s championship-winning team, before responding to Dave Valentine’s inspired leadership with four supercharged blockbusting performances as the Great Britain no-hopers defied the odds in France in the 1954 World Cup.
Appointed club captain at the beginning of the 1955-56 season, but out of action for several weeks with a cracked fibula, sustained in the first Test against New Zealand at Swinton’s Station Road, Don finally applied for a transfer at the turn of the year and needed no persuading to sign on the dotted line. A change of scene! A new challenge! And quick he was to prove himself at The Boulevard of all places, in the 1st Round of the Challenge Cup, unceremoniously dumping opponents, big as they came, like sacks of King Edwards, and creating havoc from time to time with dynamite-dripping bursts of explosive power, thereby adding another dimension to Harry Street’s already formidable pack. Not a fist was raised in anger, but Hull’s dreadnought six got the message, and their deserts, the Loiners going through to a famous victory by 9 points to 4. What’s more after a team performance like that, there was no way that confident, bit-between-the-teeth Ambition could continue to live under the same roof as faint-hearted dithering Doubt.
Never before a decree nisi like this, with 25,000 packed into Headingley’s Shire Oak court on 13th October 1956 as thirteen good men and true gave their testimony for all of eighty minutes against Ken Kearney’s touring Australians. The occasion was special, the atmosphere electric, Don’s contribution nothing short of herculean, as the battle ebbed and flowed, with lungs near bursting and the game hanging on a thread when he surged on to Harry Street’s shrewd pass in the closing minutes, to send Bernard Prior cantering over in triumph.
Selected shortly afterwards, along with Jeff Stevenson, for the first two Tests at Central Park and Odsal, by the time he returned from duty as reserve in the 3rd, Keith McLellan’s men had won four games on the trot, with fourteen more to follow on a bandwagon that was to keep on rolling down the Wembley highway.
A cracked scaphoid, or no, Don wasn’t going to miss out on this! Wearing protective strapping, there he was on the great day, walking tall as he pulled out all the stops. A wayward second-half pass from Barrow’s Jack Grundy, and he was over almost before you could say Don Robinson, to put the Loiners seven points clear with his 16th try of the season, then, in the very last minute, with the margin down to a mere two points, he was there again, plunging bravely for a touchdown that would have put the game beyond redemption, yet only to be penalised for a double movement, with Barrow quick to race clear and many a Leeds supporter saved from cardiac arrest by Lewis Jones, Pat Quinn, George Broughton and the sands of time. Wembley, the Challenge Cup and the Yorkshire Championship Cup, in his first full season at Headingley! He’d been right all along! The grass was greener!
Alas, honours and awards were increasingly hard to come by during his seven remaining years at Headingley. Even so, for all he was consistently overlooked by the international selectors, save for two Tests against Australia and one against France during 1959-60, he ploughed on regardless in good times and bad. Nor did loyal service go unrewarded, a couple of long, hard furrows yielding hidden treasure: in October 1958, a medal to mark the Yorkshire Cup Final victory over his former club; and then, in May 1961, by which time he had moved up permanently to the front row, there came that 25 – 10 drubbing for Warrington and the Championship medal for which generation after generation of Leeds players had striven in vain, ever since 1901!
Making his farewell appearance at Headingley on 28th March 1964, and rounding off his career with a spell as player-coach with Doncaster, Don also put in an eight-month stint as coach at Bramley, from October 1978 to May 1979.