Greatest ever Lions recognised at memorable reunion lunch

Greatest ever Lions recognised at memorable reunion lunch

The power of Rugby League Cares’s reunions programme was perfectly demonstrated on Saturday January 25 when over 450 people gathered to celebrate the most successful Great Britain team of all time at the RL Lions Association’s annual luncheon.

The highlight of the fantastic event, organised by RL Cares and sponsored by Ellis Rugby, was the presentation of medals to 11 members of the 1970 Lions squad, who were the last Great Britain team to win the Rugby League Ashes.

Medals were also presented to family members of Lions who have sadly passed away, including the star of the tour, Roger Millward, plus Clive Sullivan, Chris Hesketh, Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan, Dave Chisnall and Dennis Hartley.

Lions Association secretary John Ledger said: “Our reunion luncheon has taken place annually since 1946 and this year’s was one of the most special.

“It was a wonderful Rugby League occasion attended by some of the greatest players the sport has known, including the members of the 1970 tour.

“Their record on that tour was simply remarkable: of the 24 matches they played, 22 were won, one was drawn and just one was lost.

“On behalf of the Association and RL Cares I would like to thank RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer and the RFL for their continued support and for recognising the 1970 Lions in such a fitting manner with the presentation of medals.”

Ralph Rimmer said: “It was a privilege for me to present medals to these great former players and in some cases their relatives, on behalf of the Rugby Football League, and the game of Rugby League.

“In the 125th anniversary of the sport, it’s important that we recognise the past – and the 50-year anniversary of that famous Lions tour of 1970 made this a symbolic time to honour their achievements.

“It also provides another reminder of the amount of history and heritage that will underpin the revival of the Rugby League Ashes this autumn, with our first three-Test series against Australia in 17 years.

“As Malcolm Reilly said on stage, 50 years has been a long time to wait – for a medal in his case, and to win the Ashes for us. We’ll make sure we find a way for Rugby League supporters to salute the heroes of 1970 during those three Tests later this year.”

In alphabetical order, the 1970 heroes who attended Saturday’s presentation were: Ray Dutton, Tony Fisher, Alan Hardisty, Keith Hepworth, Doug Laughton, Phil Lowe, Malcolm Reilly, Dave Robinson, Barry Seabourne, Alan Smith and Jimmy Thompson.

They sat together on the stage after receiving a standing ovation from a sold-out luncheon, and were soon reminiscing on tour memories – with the typically ebullient Laughton even drifting into song after his interview, with a few lines from Strangers in the Night!

There were tributes to Johnny Whiteley and Frank Myler, who were coach and captain respectively, and who were unable to attend.

Another highlight of the day was an auction of a tour shirt presented by the family of the former Oldham forward Bob Irving, which raised £1,100 for Rugby League Cares.

As has become traditional at the Lions lunch, a number of players attending for the first time were presented with their heritage numbers and certificates – including the former St Helens hooker Graham Liptrot, the Huddersfield Giants centre Leroy Cudjoe, and the former Bradford Bulls and South Sydney forward Sam Burgess.

The RL Cares reunion programme aims to re-engage former players with the sport they served with distinction and to recognise both their achievements and the important role they continue to have.