ONE of the finest rugby league players to come out of Barrow has passed away at the age of 83.

Former team mates and friends have paid tribute to Barrow-born Bill Wookey who passed away on Tuesday night.

He has been described as a 'natural and brilliant' player who could play in a variety of positions, but his greatest day came when as a 19-year-old he faced his hero the great Willie Horne at Wembley Stadium in the 1955 Challenge cup final.

Bill was snared away from Barrow by Workington Town after excellent performances for Furness Rugby Union Club.

Long time friend and team mate Billy Skeels paid tribute to a dear friend.

He said: "Myself and Bill went to the Technical school and played under 14s at League and under 15s at Union. I played stand off and Bill at centre.

"We also played together for Barrow boys at League and competed in the top competition for schools the Daily Dispatch cup.

"We then moved to Furness Rugby Union, then I went to Barrow and Bill went to Workington and we did manage to play against each other on one occasion, it was very strange. He was a very good player”

John Rea who played for Barrow in the 1957 final against Leeds said: “ Bill was a very good player - very fast for such a big lad.”

Mick Ducie, a Barrow player in the 50s and 60s said: “Bill was a man with loads of ability, very quick and had a great side-step, he was a natural - a brilliant player."

Bill was interviewed in 2005 in an Evening Mail Special Edition marking the 50th anniversary of Barrow winning the Cup for the first and only time in 1955 defeating Workington 21-12 .

Bill had great memories of playing for Workington that golden day, the day he faced his idol in Willie Horne.

He said: “The Coach Jim Brough announced the squad mid week including three 19-year-olds, myself Brian Edgar and Sol Roper.

"I played in the first round but got injured, missing the next three rounds and thought my chances had gone. Other players got injured and I got my chance.”

Bill was only 15 when he made his first team debut for Furness and was there until he was 18 when Town came knocking on his door.

On the final date Bill added: “ I was petrified but Sol Roper my half back partner (also 19) said What's up Marra? What's thou worried about, we are playing against two old men Horne and Ted Toohey.

"The legs turned to jelly when walking out of the tunnel then after a few minutes I settled down.

"Our skipper Billy Ivison said to me 'watch Horne for those drop goal attempts'.

"When the final whistle went I felt very sad even going up to the Royal box - I was very upset.

"The only time I touched Willie all afternoon was when I shook his hand at the final whistle.”

Bill returned to Wembley in 1958 for Workington's third final of the 50s, but they lost to Wigan.

Bill returned home and signed for Barrow in 1964 playing 64 times scoring 12 tries before having a short spell at Blackpool.

He went on the 1958 tour but never gained an international Cap.