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Tricks of the trade

Geoff Gunney played during an era in which forward play involved much greater specialisation than it does today. Hookers and many prop forwards specialised in winning the ball from the scrum whilst the second row positions were often occupied by men who could either run or tackled hard in the loose, and sometimes do both.

Geoff made his mark as a strong-running second row forward and vied for representative honours with players like Dick Huddart, Bill Ramsey, Bob Haigh and Brian Edgar. These men were at their most effective when they formed a partnership with a recognised ball player.

During the 1954 tour trial Geoff remembers securing his place on the trip by running onto the passes of loose forward Harry Street, who unfortunately missed out on selection, and at the start of the 1970s Bob Haigh set a new try scoring record for a forward at Leeds where he formed a similar partnership with Ray Batten, who also wore the number 13 shirt.

Many prop forwards also combined ball-playing skills with their role in the scrum and on consecutive tours to Australia Brian McTigue, one of the greatest of all time, formed an ashes winning partnership with perhaps the leading second row forward of his generation Dick Huddart.

McTigue, who had been part of the Wigan side since 1951, was at his peak when dynamic 21 year old Cumbrian Huddart won a place alongside him on the 1958 tour. They both missed out on selection for the first test defeat at the Sydney Cricket ground, but were included in the sides that triumphed in the famous battle of Brisbane and the demolition of Australia in the final test which brought the Ashes back to Britain.

After being selected again four years later, the pair played in all three test matches as Great Britain romped to victory at Sydney and Brisbane to win the series before narrowly losing in the final encounter which was again played in Sydney. Huddart’s rampaging runs cut the Australian defence to ribbons during both these series and, in an interview in the Rugby League Journal, he later described how,

Mac was the greatest ball handler in the game and time after time he’d set up the gaps for me and call me through, and I’d go running thirty or forty yards down field.

Huddart left such an indelible mark on the Australians that a year after returning from the tour he signed for the St George club and was part of the team that won the 1966 Sydney Grand Final.