Rugby League Local Stars

by | Jan 28, 2018 | Manchester, Rugby League |

Manchester may be famous for its football teams, but some of rugby league’s best ever players were born in the local area. iNostalgia remembers a few of the finest.

It’s no surprise that the most decorated player in rugby league history comes from Wigan.

And it’s no surprise that four out of the top ten best rugby league players of all time come from the Manchester area.

For the region has a rich rugby league heritage, stretching right back to the foundation of the breakaway Northern Rugby Football League in 1901.

Wigan, Oldham, Widnes and Warrington were all part of the original league. Since then, Wigan have become the all-time most successful club in English rugby league history.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Wigan were untouchable. They won the Challenge Cup eight seasons in a row and the League Championship seven years in succession.

Overall, the club has notched up no less than 21 League Championships, including four Super League Grand Finals, 19 Challenge Cups and four World Club Challenge trophies.

1956 challenge cup

Crowds cheer as the 1965 Challenge Cup comes home to Wigan.

Few teams in any field of sport can match that kind of domination.

One of the players at the heart of the club’s success was scrum-half and stand-off Shaun Edwards.

Born in Wigan in 1966, Edwards played 467 times for his home-town club from 1983 to 1997, scoring 1,114 points.

His tally of 37 winner’s medals is without equal.

Edwards came from a rugby league family. His father Jackie played scrum half or stand-off for Warrington until he was forced to retire at the age of 24 with a spinal injury.

Edwards holds the unique honour of captaining England schoolboys at both rugby league and rugby union. He signed for Wigan for £35,000 on his seventeenth birthday.

In May 1984, still aged 17, he became the youngest ever player to play in a Rugby League Cup Final. Our photo shows him proudly standing on the Wembley turf on the eve of the match.

Wigan lost 19-6 to Widnes that year, but Edwards did not have to wait long for cup success to come along. Wigan beat Hull 28-24 in the next year’s final with Edwards scoring one of the tries.

Shaun Edwards at Wembley

Shaun Edwards on the eve of the 1984 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

Wigan brought the cup home in 1965 too when another all-time great – Eric Ashton – was thrilling crowds with his devastating partnership with Billy Boston.

Right-centre Ashton, born in St Helens in 1935, played 497 times for Wigan from 1955 to 1969, scoring 1,589 points.

One of the best centres of the modern game, Ashton went on to coach Wigan, Leeds, St Helens and Great Britain after he retired from playing in 1969.

Ashton was one of six Wigan players chosen to represent England against France in March 1962. Our photo shows him, second left, in a training sprint with Dave Bolton, Bill Sayer, Roy Evans, Billy Boston and Brian McTigue.

England internationals

Wigan’s six England internationals in training for their match against France, March 1962.

During his 15 years at Wigan from 1953 to 1968, Billy Boston played 488 games and scored 478 tries. He was noted for his amazing turn of speed.

Playing at various positions behind the scrum, Boston scored a total of 571 tries in his career, making him the second-highest try-scorer of all time.

Although he was born in Wales, Boston made Wigan his home, running the Griffin Hotel pub near Central Park until his retirement.

Our photo shows him carrying the 1965 Challenge Cup with team mate Frank Parr.

Billy Boston with the challenge cup

Billy Boston parades the 1965 Challenge Cup with team-mate Frank Parr.

Number One in the greatest ever league players’ list is St Helens-born Alex Murphy. Known as Murphy the Mouth or Yapper by referees, he played at scrum-half or centre for St Helens, Leigh and Warrington.

Murphy is widely regarded as the greatest half-back in the history of the British game and was the first player to captain three different clubs to victory in the Challenge Cup Final.

Our photo shows him celebrating after scoring a try for Warrington in the 1974 Challenge Cup Final against Featherstone Rovers at Wembley. Warrington won 24-9 in front of a crowd of 77,400.

Alex Murphy celebrates against Featherstone Rovers

Alex Murphy in action against Featherstone Rovers at Wembley, May 1974

Prop Kevin Ashcroft celebrated Leigh’s 24-7 victory over Leeds in the 1971 Challenge Cup Final with his son, team mascot Gary, and fellow player Peter Smethurst.

The match, which was the 70th Challenge Cup Final, made history for all the wrong reasons as Leeds captain Syd Hynes became the first player to be sent off in a final.

Ashcroft, born in Earlestown, also played for Rochdale Hornets, Dewsbury, Warrington and Salford.

Kevin Ashcroft with his mascot son

Kevin Ashcroft with mascot son Gary and Leigh team-mate Peter Smethurst, May 1971.

Finally, no local rugby league round-up would be complete without Wigan-born scrum half Andy Gregory.

Playing for Widnes, Warrington and Wigan from 1980 to 1992, he became the first player to win five Challenge Cup winner’s medals.

On top of that he was the first player to appear in eight Challenge Cup finals and the first man to win Wembley’s Lance Todd man-of-the-match trophy twice.

Our photo shows him, left, lining up in American football style with fellow Widnes players Mike O’Neill, Joe Lydon and John Bassnett before the Challenge Cup Final against Wigan in May 1984. In front is Kevin Tamati.

Andy Gregory with his Widnes team mates

Wigan-born Andy Gregory, left, and Widnes team-mates at Wembley, May 1984.

If you have any rugby league memories you’d like to share, get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.