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Saturday, 23 May 2015

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Pride of Lions lives on

EVENING Mail amateur rugby league writer PADDY McATEER rubbed shoulders with many legends of the game at the recent British Rugby League Lions Association annual reunion lunch

CUMBERLAND’S James Lomas was a proud man when he led the Great Britain team onto Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Showground in June 1910, for the first Ashes series on Australian soil.

Who would have thought that 100 years later, rugby league legend Ray French would draw the final curtain under a great sporting contest at the 64th annual Lions reunion lunch?

With Ashes series all but confined to the dustbin, with no further tours imminent as the Great Britain banner is put to one side in favour of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, the Lions committee decided that last Sunday’s gathering at The Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford, would be the last.

A record 530 former Lions and guests sat down on what was to be an historic occasion, in which former Test player and ex-Great Britain coach Frank Myler was presented with the Tom Mitchell Trophy for services to the Lions.

Among the stars of yesteryear at the lunch were the likes of Myler, Roger Millward, Alex Murphy, Billy Boston, Neil Fox, Phil Lowe and Jim Mills.

The first Test series between Britain and Australia took place in the Northern Hemisphere in 1908/09.

The host nation took the Ashes, with two victories after the first Test between the two nations had resulted in a 22-22 draw.

At full-back for that first game was Barrow’s Harry Gifford. He played in the first two Tests but was left out of the third, and was not selected for the first tour Down Under.

Lomas, who was born in Maryport, became the first player involved in a £100 transfer, when he moved from Bramley to Salford in 1901, and he holds the Salford club’s record of points in a game, at 39.

In 1910 series in Australia, Great Britain won the first Test 27-20 before a record crowd of 42,000, sealing the series with a 22-17 victory at Brisbane.

Prior to the first Test, Lomas and Dally Messenger (Australia) the two stars of the game, participated in a goal-kicking contest, which Lomas won.

In 1920, Joe Doyle became Barrow’s first Lion Down Under, scoring eight tries, but he failed to make the GB Test side despite his try-scoring feats.

Four years later, Barrow pair Bill Burgess (senior ) and Charlie Carr made the trip. Burgess played in all three Tests and Carr two, with the Lions winning the series 2-1.

Burgess toured once more in 1928, again playing in all three Tests, but this time the home side won the series 2-1.

In 1932, Barrow’s Tank Woods was in the party which won the Ashes. Woods crossed for 18 tries but failed to make the Test side.

In 1936, Barrow skipper Alex Troup toured, but again he was not selected for the Ashes tests, a series the tourists won by a slender 2-1 margin.

A record four Barrow players toured in 1946 on the famous aircraft carrier, The Indomitable, with the tour team being known for ever more as the Indomitables.

Willie Horne, Jimmy Lewthwaite, Joe Jones and Bryn Knowelden were joined by Barrow director Wilf Gabbatt as team manager.

The first Test was drawn 8-8, with Craven Park legend Horne crossing for a try.

He also played in the second Test, which the Lions won 14-5, and in the third Test which saw Great Britain win again, this time by a 20-7 scoreline.

In doing so, Horne and Co, became the first Test team to win a three-match series in Australia.

Although he was top try-scorer with an amazing 25 touchdowns, prolific winger Lewthwaite never made the Test side.

Horne again toured in 1950, but he picked up a serious injury and did not play in any of the tests.

In 1954, Frank Castle and Phil Jackson were Barrow’s representatives.

Centre Jackson played in all three Tests and winger Castle featured in one, but the home side took the series 2-1.

Barrow’s Jackson and Jack Grundy were included in the 1957 World Cup squad, while a year later Jackson was accompanied by fellow Barrow centre Denis Goodwin.

Great Britain won 2-1, with Jackson playing in two games and he was skipper in the final Test.

In 1966 Bill Burgess followed in his father’s footsteps, playing in all three Tests, and scoring a try to help GB to a 17-13 victory in the opener. However, the Aussies fought back to take the series.

Great Britain also lost the 1974 series 2-1, the tour manager being former Barrow forward Reg Parker.

He was also in charge in 1977 when Phil Hogan was one of the stars of the World Cup, but the Aussies triumphed in the final by the narrowest of margins, 13-12.


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