RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (5) – RON HILL – PART 4

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – SALFORD’S 1969 CHALLENGE CUP RUN

Part 4 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND CHAIRMAN

Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

Part 4 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND CHAIRMAN

Being of Welsh origin himself, it is unsurprising that Ron has a very high regard for a couple of other Welsh players in the Salford ranks. We have already heard, in Part 2, of the close relationship and respect he had for Colin Dixon, but he had also come across David Watkins, in the past, and now had the opportunity to cement his acquaintance with the out half.

“David was a really fine player in both codes, and when you consider that he played all those matches, very seldom missing any, and with opponents desperately trying to stop him by fair means or foul, it is absolutely remarkable that he was able to do so.  They would chase him all over the field and try to catch him, but he was just too quick for any of them.  He was also extremely tough; he had to be.

“With ball in hand, he would use his acceleration and speed, alongside an incredible sidestep which he could utilise from a standing start, and which completely foxed the opposition, putting him immediately into, and through, a gap.

“He was not only a great player but a great person. He was most warm and welcoming, and he always wore a bright smile on his face. He also spoke extremely well, and, through that, became an ambassador for the club, having already done similarly so for Welsh Rugby Union, on the biggest of stages.

“Over the time that he was at the club he more than repaid Salford for the investment they had made in him by the additional numbers his presence on the field put on the gate, but not only at home games, other clubs similarly benefited when he turned out, at away games.”

Watkins’s co-half back, upon his arrival, was our long-serving, died-in-the-wool rugby league player, Jackie Brennan. He had played almost all his rugby at stand-off half, for both Blackpool Borough and Salford, prior to moving to scrum half shortly before Watkins’s arrival.

“He was a real character, with a strong Wigan accent, which accentuated that. He had the special knack of being able to lift the mood of the dressing-room, when he sensed it was needed. He would make some wry comment which would have everyone laughing, immediately.

“He was the ideal partner for David, because, not only did he know the game inside out. He was an extremely clever footballer who grew into dictating the game, particularly from dummy half, in the days of unlimited possession.”

At that time, one of Salford’s most potent attacking forces was international right winger, Bill Burgess, who had been signed from his home-town club, Barrow, with whom he had made his name.

“Bill was an absolute gentleman, who spoke with an unusually soft voice, but everyone listened when he had something to say, and he was extremely well respected throughout the team. On the field he was a great player with a beautifully balanced running style, so much so that he appeared to do so almost effortlessly, which is the hallmark of an exceptional talent. At Salford, he made a great pairing with his centre, Stuart Whitehead, who knew just how to get the best out of him.”

Indeed, Ron still has a great respect for Brian Snape for all he did for Salford and the way he always conducted himself.

“What Mr Snape did for Salford was incredible.  He not only put the club on the map, he put Rugby League on the map by all he did for the game, in his time as Chairman. He was a wonderful person who was respected by us all.”

His greatest achievements, in Ron’s opinion, was his signing the likes of David Watkins and Mike Coulman from union, and in bringing Colin Dixon, Chris Hesketh, and Cumbrian fullback, Paul Charlton, to the club.

“As a former fullback myself, I was fully appreciative of all that Paul brought to the team. First of all, he completed that fabulous attacking backline, and David Watkins quickly learned how to bring him in.  On defence, he was incredible, and knew exactly how much leeway to give a winger before accelerating to bring him down.”