KENNY SYKES has experienced a great deal in a life-time’s involvement in Rugby League.
But the 73-year-old will break new ground on Sunday (26 February, 3.00pm) when Hunslet entertain Heworth in the second round of Rugby League’s blue-riband knockout competition, the Betfred Challenge Cup.
For Sykes not only played for both clubs – he is also the chairman of Hunslet, and the president of Heworth.
And his input into both organisations doesn’t stop there. Far from it.
Originally a winger, York-born Sykes subsequently made his mark in the pack with Heworth and attracted the attention of Hunslet, who signed him in 1971.
He quickly settled at Parkside as an honest-to-goodness forward and was in the team that played Hunslet’s last match at the famous ground on 21 April 1973 (against, ironically, his home-town club York).
The loyal Sykes signed for New Hunslet when the club was effectively relaunched in the same year and scored the first try in the first match, at Keighley. He was also in the team that beat Huyton in the first home fixture, at Leeds Greyhound Stadium.
He went on to total 162 first-team games for Hunslet, in both the club’s guises, scoring 15 tries, with the highlight perhaps being the 1978/79 season when, under coach Bill Ramsey, he was an ever-present in the side that finished as runners-up to unbeaten Division Two champions Hull, who were held to 6-1 at the Boulevard.
Kenny Sykes, who retired as a professional in 1983, was inducted into Hunslet’s Hall of Fame three or four years ago. In addition to being the club’s chairman, he is president of the Hunslet RL Ex-Parkside Former Players’ Association (the most exclusive in sport) which was launched immediately following the sale of Parkside in 1973.
Sykes didn’t hang his boots up on leaving Hunslet, however. He returned to Heworth and has given the Villagers grand service, on and off the field, for over four decades. He led the way, at prop, when Heworth won the inaugural National Conference (then National) League in 1986/87, closing as BARLA National Cup runners-up to Thatto Heath in the same season. He later become the York outfit’s long-serving secretary, dealing with sport’s inevitable highs and lows with unflappable aplomb, before stepping back this season and becoming president.
He may not be the only observer with mixed feelings. Heworth’s Liam Watling is a former Hunslet player while Harrison Briggs, who ripped in for a vital touchdown in the Villagers’ win over Oulton Raiders in the first round, is the son of former Hunslet man Dan Briggs, who scored a memorable try in the south Leeds outfit’s giant-killing Challenge Cup triumph over Super League’s Huddersfield Giants exactly 20 years ago.
Hunslet, as the professional club, will be generally expected to prevail, although Heworth may have their own thoughts about that. Sykes, for his part, says: “I obviously have a firm foot in both camps. Hunslet are favourites but I also want Heworth’s players to come off the pitch feeling that they’ve given it their best shot.”