In the fifth of his evocative series on the men who have headed north from Wales to Hunslet since the launch of the Northern Union in 1895, Steve Calline looks (and offers his assessments) on the Welshmen who turned from Rugby Union to Rugby League in the period from the end of World War 1 through to the advent of the 1950s.
Signed from Newport RU shortly before the end of the 1945-6 season. He made his debut in the final game of the campaign, at fullback against Liverpool. Became one of Hunslet’s best and most loyal players. In his first full season, he played for Wales v England and went on to total 167 games for the club, kicking 184 goals. He also scored seven tries. In 1951 he was transferred to Doncaster who were new to the league and recruiting madly. Hunslet let them have three other players also, at knock down prices. Halifax later recruited him from Doncaster and he played against Hunslet in the 1954 Challenge Cup semi-final at Odsal. Halifax won and returned to Bradford for the Cup Final replay, with over 100,000 spectators crammed in. Rating: SUCCESS.
Given a trial from Cardiff RU in 1946-7 but was considered too small and light, even for a stand-off. Played just the one game, against Featherstone. Rating: FAILURE
THOMAS, E Dexter
Scrum-half signed from West Wales RU. Played nine games over two seasons (1946-47 and 1947-48) and was transferred on loan to York. FAILURE
DAVIES, Frederick Edward
Signed from Pontypool in 1947-8, 23-three-year old Davies was an extremely talented Association Football player. He had had trials for a couple of clubs and played as an amateur for Birmingham. He once scored four goals against Wolves. Oldham thought they had signed him but Hunslet’s scouts pinched him from under their noses. Was one of the quartet that were transferred to Doncaster in 1950. He only played 28 first team games, with 22 goals and one try. He did play regularly in the second team and was a member of the cup-winning side around that time. Rating: MODERATE
RUSSELL, John Martin
A stand-off signed from Penarth RU in 1948. He played in the 1948 Challenge Cup semi-final against Bradford. Only played 21 games in two seasons, scoring two goals. Was transferred to Cardiff’s new Rugby League side in 1951-2. Rating: FAILURE
JONES, Richard WT (Dick)
A Welsh international prop signed from St Helens in 1949 to stiffen Hunslet’s forwards. He had the correct effect as the pack improved beyond recognition. The following season, he was transferred to Doncaster along with three others. Played 43 games with five tries. Apparently, his real name was Robert. Originally from Aberavon. SUCCESS.
EVANS, John D
From Newport RU John (better known as Jack) was a speedy centre when signed in October 1948, having won many sprint prizes. He was later turned into a fullback by Jack Walkington, and he went on to represent Wales and Great Britain in that position. He stayed with Hunslet until 1958, playing his last first team game in 1955-6. He then took over as player-coach for the second team until 1959-60, turning out at loose forward. In the first team, he played 245 times kicking 89 goals to complement 17 tries. He played ten times for Wales and five times for Great Britain. Rating: SUCCESS.
Also signed in 1948-9 was hooker Don Rees from Neath RU, who played for Hunslet until 1952-53. When he first arrived, he was given assistance from Les White about the vagaries of league scrums. He managed 110 games, scoring one goal and two tries. SUCCESS!
1948-49 was a good year for the club regarding Welshmen. A prop was recommended and he came with a reputation as an outstanding goal kicker from Cross Keys RU. Unfortunately, between 1948-49 and 1952-53 he could only break into the firsts 17 times. His goal kicking prowess wasn’t really tested, kicking just one goal. FAILURE
WILLIAMS, William Leslie Thomas
The big prize of this season was the surprise signing of Les Williams from Cardiff RU. He had played for Wales v England at Rugby Union the previous week, scoring a couple of tries. He had played 51 games for Cardiff, scoring 47 tries. He was signed as a winger but could operate just as easily at centre. He played 15 times for Wales at League, scoring five tries. He was very unlucky in 1950 when he was selected to tour Australia but couldn’t get time off from work, and had to drop out. He retired on 31 December 1955 after a game at Featherstone, at the age of 33, having totalled 227 appearances, scoring 110 tries and one goal. He had accepted an appointment at a school in Cornwall. In later life he became a champion at sports for older people, being tremendously fit. A massive SUCCESS.
1949-50 brought an absolute classic loose forward to Parkside and left Newbridge RU poorer. He played 172 games until 1956-57, amassing 62 tries. He seemed to have disagreements with the committee and was placed on the transfer list a couple of times. He kept playing and other teams would come in for him but as he was getting better and better, Hunslet kept raising the transfer fee. At one time it was a record amount of £5,000. Played for Wales five times plus once for a Welsh XIII. He gradually dropped out of rugby because of injury. After he finished in the first team, he was still trying to recover with odd games in the seconds but his leg wouldn’t stand up to it anymore. Rating: A big SUCCESS.