1956-1957

1957! A vintage year! A year for Keith McLellan and his squad, and all associated with the Leeds club, to recall with justifiable pride: R.L. Challenge Cup Winners, Yorkshire League Champions, Championship Semi-Finalists, and 18 consecutive victories to establish a new Club record.

Once again there had been little close-season activity: ‘Drew’ Turnbull, with the remarkable record of 228 tries in 230 appearances, had joined Halifax on the expiration of his contract; and 17-year-old Del Hodgkinson, a winger, had graduated to professional status from the Headingley ‘nursery’, along with Michael Pratt, a forward. In eight seasons with Leeds, Turnbull had never appeared in a Challenge Cup Final, yet by some strange quirk of fate, within nine months Hodgkinson was to be receiving a winner’s medal at Wembley, and scoring a try into the bargain. So, too, was Pat Quinn, whose midnight phone call during the first week of the season ended a five-year chase for his services. Quinn, a great-hearted centre, who had toured South Africa with the British Lions a year earlier, was doubly welcome in view of a spate of injuries: Jack Lendill dislocated shoulder; Dunn, cartilage operation; Brown, doomed to prolonged inactivity with a knee condition; and the unfortunate Rose, compelled to retire on medical advice.

All in all with an unsettled team it was hardly surprising that Leeds made a mediocre start to the league programme, and sustained a crushing defeat at Wakefield in the 1st Round of the Yorkshire Cup. Even so, by the end of September there were com­pensating factors of far greater significance than immediate results: Lewis Jones had celebrated his return to complete fitness with a record-breaking 31 points at Odsal; Bernard Prior, a first-class ball-playing hooker, had won his spurs as a worthy successor to the long-serving Arthur Wood; Hodgkinson, taking over from Charlesworth on the right wing, had made a strong bid for regular inclusion with a hat-trick of tries against York; and, most important of all, there were unmistakable signs that Headingley was infected with that elusive bug called ‘team spirit’.

Morale was given yet another boost in October, craggy Don Gullick, a fearless utility back, being generously released on-loan by Leigh, in time to confront ‘Bandy’ Adams, the Australian winger, and thus share in a memorable victory over the Tourists by 18 points to 13. When two more splendid wins over Hull K.R. and Wigan followed, we were on the crest of a wave, and nothing, it seemed, was impossible. Meanwhile, with Dunn and Lendill fit again, Scholes had been transferred to Featherstone Rovers and Wilkinson had rejoined Doncaster.

Nothing was impossible! We lost to Hunslet at Parkside, where winger George Richardson made his debut, and then to Barrow and Halifax. Perhaps those setbacks were a rebuke to complacency; certainly they were a spur to ambition: we beat Keighley at Headingley on November 24th, and then never tasted defeat until we visited The Boulevard four months later. December was notable for a superb display at Barrow, and for the regrettable loss of Gullick with a fractured collar-bone at Keighley; in January, we thrashed Warrington at Wilderspool; signed Malcolm Davies, Bradford Northern’s free-scoring winger; and reduced the St. Helens pack to fawning servility at Headingley.

After eleven consecutive victories, R.L. Cup fever had naturally reached epidemic proportions, so that for the 1st Round visit of Wigan, Headingley was besieged by an incredible crowd 38,914, with an estimated 5,000 locked out. They missed a titanic battle, with Wigan bravely discounting the loss of the injured Bolton, and the game balanced on a knife-edge of suspense five minutes from the end, as Ashton squared up on the ’25’ for a crucial attempt at goal. Would he earn Wigan the replay which none could fairly have begrudged them? Headingley held its breath, and Leeds were through!

We won our next league game at York in a canter, Quinn establishing himself at full-back, and then put paid to Warrington in the 2nd Round in a Headingley snowstorm. This was a triumph for team spirit in every sense: 22,000 Leeds diehards braved the elements, and track-suited reserves constantly brushed the dye-marked lines, whilst thirteen heroes in blue and amber blended skill with stamina and resolution. Their reward was a 3rd Round visit to Thru Hall, a veritable graveyard for visiting teams, and many supporters must surely have given up the ghost when Traill scored twice to put Halifax ten points up within twenty minutes but Leeds, refusing to bow to the seeming inevitable, found their best form in adversity. Jack Lendill scored a vital try just before the interval, so that with Jones kicking four goals we took a one-point lead with thirteen minutes to go and the tension was unbearable. Two minutes from time, and winger Freeman was tackled just a yard short, a minute to go, and Street came away in the Leeds ’25’, a pass to Hodgkinson, then an inside pass, and there was McLellan striding away to crown a miraculous victory with a majestic try.

League wins over Wakefield Trinity and Bradford Northern followed, but Hull brought to an end our sequence of 18 Victories, just a week before a nerve-racking Semi-Final against Whitehaven at Odsal. Thanks to two splendid tries by Broughton and a goal from Jones we were leading by 4 points with 28 minutes to go, when the game swung in a twinkling! McKeown converting a McMenemy try with a magnificent goal. Now leading by a point, Whitehaven played the time-consuming possession game: 40 consecutive times they played the ball: 39 times the acting half-back was tackled in possession. Not the fortieth! Diving round in sheer desperation, Anderson stole the ball; there was a neat pass to Stevenson, and then a towering 35-yard drop goal. Within seconds, a flash of genius had transformed those fading visions of Wembley’s twin towers into a glorious reality.

Championship aspirations were jolted by a heavy defeat at St. Helens and the loss of Anderson with a dislocated shoulder; nevertheless, with Skelton proving himself a capable deputy, and Les Belshaw available on loan from Bradford Northern, we won five of our remaining fixtures, attracting a crowd of 38,000 for the visit of Hunslet, and thus squeezed into fourth place. Making a valiant bid for the ‘double’, we were holding our own in the Semi-Final at Watersheddings until Cracknell scored the crunch try on the stroke off half-time; thereafter, Oldham proved their superiority on the day. The Leeds team was: Jones; Quinn, McLellan, J. Lendill, Broughton; G. Brown, Stevenson; Skelton, Prior, Hopper, B. Poole, Robinson, Street.

And so to Wembley! Fortunately, Anderson had proved his fitness in a specially arranged ‘A’ team fixture, but neither the team nor the Press were aware that Robinson was to play with strapping on a cracked scaphoid. The story of the Final is given in the following Press report.

LEEDS SURVIVE BARROW’S COURAGEOUS WEMBLEY RALLY

Thrilling Cup Final Climax

Leeds 9 Barrow 7

While everyone around me at Leeds’ Rugby League Cup-winning celebration beamed delightedly at everyone else and chattered animatedly about the best of all possible worlds – as it assuredly was – my thoughts kept turning to two men who were not present. I wondered what Jack Grundy and John Rea were thinking about.

Two years ago when Barrow beat Workington Town at Wembley, Jack Grundy won the Lance Todd Trophy for the outstanding individual performance and jumped to the top of the ladder which leads to Test status. That was his greatest moment in football. Against Leeds, on the same ground, he had his worst – the moment fourteen minutes after the interval when a wild pass, less than ten yards from his own line, presented second row forward Don Robinson with one of the softest tries ever scored in a Cup Final. But for those three points!

John Rea is only 20 and a bright career stretches ahead of him, but as long as he plays he will wonder whether he did the right thing in the last minute of the 1957 Final. Horne, his captain, had given him a chance to run from his own line, and he broke strongly. He got past halfway, and as the scattered Leeds defence strained desper­ately to recover, he kicked ahead. Broughton crossed from the Leeds left-wing to save at the feet of what must have seemed an alarming number of red shirts, and the whistle blew for time. From my seat it looked as though Barrow must have scored had Rea passed to the fleet-footed Castle on his left instead of kicking. The referee, Mr. C. F. Appleton, said afterwards that he was of the same opinion. But Pat Quinn, the Leeds full-back, would have none of it. “I could see that Lewis Jones was coming across to cut Rea off,” he said. “I yelled to him that I would take Castle. I am sure that we could have handled the situation between us, but it was certainly a dodgy moment.”

So ended one of the most exciting Finals in the Wembley series – and one of the best, in my opinion. There were very few classic moves, it is true, but one always had the feeling that something was likely to happen because both sides were quick and enter­prising in their efforts to beat deadly tackling. The game never stagnated, as so many Wembley Finals have done in the past.

Most of the excitement stemmed from Barrow’s spirited effort in the second half. They took a shattering blow in the first minute after the interval when Hodgkinson scored, and another when Grundy’s slip increased their arrears to 2-9, but so powerful was their rally that even with only five minutes to go no one would have gambled heavily against their winning. It was Leeds’ young men who showed most signs of wilting during this period, not Barrow’s old ones.

Yet it· would be totally wrong to give the impression that Leeds were lucky to win. They scored three tries to one, and they were at least as much on top in the first half as Barrow were in the second. The near misses were about 50-50. Broughton missed one chance for Leeds because he was not quick enough to squeeze past Lewthwaite at the corner flag; Hodgkinson missed another because he failed to take a difficult but by no means impossible pass from Jones on the other wing; Robinson was pulled down inches from the line according to the referee – over it, according to Robinson. Leeds’s anxious moments were caused by Lewthwaite, who would certainly have scored had his short kick travelled another yard; by Castle, who made his effort to beat Quinn too soon, and was shouldered into touch near the corner; and by Wilson, who found Jones underneath him when he forced his way over the line, and could not ground the ball.

Prior beat Redhead only 8-7 in the scrums before the interval, but Leeds had much more possession because they moved smoothly together, rarely dropped their passes, and were quick to take advantage when Barrow dropped theirs. Prior won the second-half scrums 12-10, but Leeds lost their grip on the game because the forwards lacked the energy to storm into the tackle at the play-the-ball. They waited for Barrow to come to them, and Wilson, Grundy and Horne had the manoeuvring space to bring Jackson, Rea, Healey and Harris into moves that became more and more difficult to stop as the second half went on.

Stevenson won the Lance Todd Trophy by a clear majority, from Robinson, McLellan and Wilson. Fifteen minutes from the end I could not decide between him and Wilson for my vote, but Stevenson won it because he continued to be in every Leeds attack and at nearly every danger point in defence, as he had been from the start.

Quinn also had a capital game. He never put a foot wrong in his general full-back play, and he supplied invaluable embellishment by sneaking up unexpectedly at a play the-ball to take Prior’s pass and force his way over for the only score of the first half. McLellan was the staunch, strong player he has been all season – an inspiring captain. People around me blamed Jones for passes to Broughton and Hodgkinson that went astray, but I thought he played well. His very presence caused Jackson so much anxiety that we never saw the Jackson-Lewthwaite wing in attack; he made two of the finest runs of the match; and he paved the way for the second try scored by Hodgkinson.

The movement, from the first scrum of the second half, was a replica of that which brought a try at a crucial point of the Good Friday match against Hunslet, except that in this case Jones crossed behind the scrum from left to right to take Stevenson’s pass, instead of McLellan crossing from right to left. Barrow eyes were on Lendill, who did not touch the ball at all. Hodgkinson still had Ball to beat after Jones had made the running. His inside sidestep was so perfectly timed that ball was left at a standstill a lovely try from start to finish.

That made it 6-0 to Leeds. Horne stopped the rot by landing an easy penalty goal, but it took considerable courage to rally as Barrow did after Robinson had scored. They had their reward when Jackson, slipping through Broughton’s tackle, scored a try which Horne improved to make it 9-7 with 16 minutes to go, although I do not expect Leeds to believe that. To them it must have seemed like 116. (Attendance 77,000).

Leeds: P. Quinn; D. Hodgkinson, K. McLellan, L. Jones, G. Broughton; J. Lendill, J. Steven­son; J. Anderson, B. Prior, W. Hopper, B. Poole, D. Robinson, H. Street.

Barrow: J. Ball; J. Lewthwaite, P. Jackson, J. Rea, F. Castle; W. Horne, J. Harris G. Woosey, M. Redhead, R. Parker, J. Grundy, D. Wilson, B. Healey.

Referee: Mr. C. F. Appleton (Warrington)

During the season, Lewis Jones scored a phenomenal, record-breaking 496 points (194 goals, 36 tries) in club and representative matches (excluding the Lazenby Cup).

Jeff Stevenson and Lewis Jones were selected to represent Great Britain in the World Cup series in Australia.