Born at Castleford on the 5th September 1927, and a product of the Castleford & District League, it was Harry’s enlistment for the Army, to train as a PTI, that opened the way to a professional career, St Helens spotting the 18-year-old playing Rugby Union whilst stationed at the Army Apprentice School, Chepstow. Nor did he give them any cause to revise their original assessment, playing mostly at centre but showing his versatility as circumstances demanded, until a couple of years later a broken right foot sustained when in the employ of the United Glass & Bottle Co., possibly robbed him of a yard or two of pace.
Yet, who knows, that very injury was perhaps the making of him! Transferred to Dewsbury for £850, he switched eventually to loose-forward, with his elder brother Arthur, in the 2nd row, and never looked back, debut appearances for Yorkshire and England during 1949-50 being followed by selection for the 1950 Tour. And the youngest forward in the party at that!
Preferred to Ken Traill for all three Tests against Australia, and chosen as emergency centre for the Auckland Test versus New Zealand, he returned home all the better equipped to help Dews bury maintain middle-of-the-table respectability. By the end of the season, however, the alltoo- familiar distress signals were flying over Crown Flatt, Wigan’s £8,000 FOR STREET AND CONSTANCE stealing the sporting headlines on 3rd August 1951, the £5,000 element in respect of Harry’s transfer equalling the record sum paid by Leigh some months earlier for Wigan’s Joe Egan.
And so began a rewarding four-year spell at Central Park, the cherry-and whites scooping the League Championship, the Lancashire Challenge Cup and the Lancashire League Cup in his first season. To be sure, the remaining three years were nothing like as successful, yielding nothing more than a runners-up medal in the Lancashire Cup, but the know-how gained by playing alongside Jim Sullivan’s charges was invaluable, with Leeds happy to be the beneficiaries.
Knowledgeable and shrewd, and a father-figure from the start for all he was only 28, Harry had the priceless knack of being able to explain his tactical plans in simple, uncomplicated terms, sharing always with his pack both a common aim and an end-of-game ‘Well-done!’ Something of a psychologist, too, I well recall his quiet, low-key pep talk as acting-captain midway through his debut at Thrum Hall, the reference to the ball being as precious as a bag of gold, with Bernard Poole, for one, instantly all ears and then came the punch line ‘Oh, by the way, I almost forgot. We’ll try that new move this half! What new move, Harry?’, said Bernard, with his customary wide-eyed enthusiasm Tackling! A chuckle all round, and tackle their hearts out they did, to a man, right up to the final whistle.
Immediately prior to his arrival at Headingley, the Loiners had lost all but two of their previous eight matches, with confidence at a low ebb, yet within a matter of weeks there was his revitalised pack, including newly signed Don Robinson, ruling the roost at The Boulevard as a prerequisite to a famous victory by 9 points to 4 in the 1st Round of the R.L. Cup. Furthermore, had it not been for a cracked fibula sustained by Lewis Jones in the closing minutes they might well have gone all the way to Wembley, for the mustard seeds of implicit faith and self-belief had clearly taken root.
Confirmation came the following October, when the redoubtable Leeds ‘six’, brave, resolute and organised, set their stall out in a thrilling end-to-end encounter against Ken Kearney’s Australians. Nor was there anything finer in the game than the opening try, with Keith McLellan’s men plotting a bid for freedom even as they prepared to serum down under the shadow of their own posts, ball out to serum-half Pratt, an object lesson in the art of loose forward play, as Street broke gloriously to half-way, an exasperating catch me- if-you-can dart from the mercurial Stevenson, a cross-kick, and there was McLellan, picking up cleanly to savour the special thrill of scoring against his own countrymen.
Thrills! There were plenty more of those in store, a sequence of eighteen consecutive victories. The Yorkshire League Championship and then Wembley! And what memories there are of Harry, lug caps and all, in that Challenge Cup campaign for ever tackling, turning, manoeuvring, covering, prompting, scheming in that titanic 1st Round tussle with Wigan a couple of tries in the 2nd Round blizzard, to set up the rout of Warrington, the tension in those desperate closing minutes at Thrum Hall, until he brought the ball out of danger, and fed Del Hodgkinson with a perfect pass, for Keith McLellan to stride away majestically, the slick pass from acting half-back in the Semi-Final, to set up Jeff Stevenson’s dramatic match-winning drop-goal and so to the Final, where he rarely caught the limelight, yet never missed a trick. No wonder he was hoisted shoulder-high alongside the captain in the moment of triumph!
Sadly, the Wembley euphoria was dissipated all too quickly by a season in the Lancashire League, Harry moving on to Featherstone, to help bring on some of the Rovers’ promising young players as his own career drew to a close.
And what a career it had been: four Tests on Tour; six games with England; three with Yorkshire; distinguished service either side of the Pennines; and a name respected wherever the game he loved was played. The game he loved! As coach to Castleford, Keighley, Huddersfield and Bradford Northern, as well as to Yorkshire County from 1960 to 1969, he continued to serve the game just as conscientiously off the field as ever he did on it.
A gardener at Harewood House during his time with Leeds, and now living at Kirkheaton along with Mary, his Welsh-born wife, to see Harry with one of his potted plants is to know the man: quietly spoken, with the same droll humour; thoughtful; and a man of principle, with a sense of values.