Hugh Waddell, one of the heroes of Great Britain’s wonderful 1988 win in Sydney, spoke to me for Rugby League World’s ‘Blast from the Past’ section.
Was that Test win the highlight of your career?
I imagine it would have to be. I came from nowhere, got a chance to play at that level, then went back to nowhere! I was just there as cover in the first place for people like Lee Crooks but to get a chance to play, then actually win, was superb. It was quite a feat by the team – the dregs of the squad that was remaining! On the day it was just great to have a chance to play in a game like that.
What do you remember about losing to the Kiwis shortly after, in what was, effectively, a World Cup semi-final?
We should have won but we were robbed. We scored a perfectly good try in the first few minutes – a similar sort of try to the one we scored in Australia with the runaround – but it was ruled out by a bloody Australian referee. The New Zealanders went out to hit the likes of Ellery Hanley and as far as I can remember it was a rainy, muddy game and we lost by two points. We were penalised to death.
Who were the best players you played alongside?
Prop-forward wise, I’d have to say Kevin Ward. Then there’s Ellery, Mike Gregory and of course, Roy Powell. Two of them aren’t with us anymore, sadly.
You played for Manly in 1989 alongside some of the greatest players of that generation – Cliff Lyons, Michael O’Connor and Des Hasler – and you were coached by one of the finest coaches ever in Bob Fulton.
It was great to play for them but I joined the club when there were some internal wranglings which meant we didn’t have the best of seasons. I played 13 games for them – every game that I was over there for, but Leeds wanted me back. It was a good experience for a lad who had walked into Blackpool and asked for a trial!
What made you do that?
I played soccer for a local side in Burton-on-Trent and I was in Blackpool for a weekend with a then-girlfriend. I saw a sign for Blackpool Rugby League and said I should go down for a trial, half jesting, but she egged me on and I did. I took to it like a duck to water and played for them for three and a half years.
How did your move to Oldham come about?
We played them in the Lancashire Cup and beat them. I scored two tries and had a field day, running through them for fun and ended up joining them. I loved my time at Oldham and played alongside fellas like David Topliss, David Hobbs and Terry Flanagan.
Why couldn’t Leeds win anything when you had so many international players there?
We won the Yorkshire Cup when I was there! But that was about it. It was a funny place – I loved it there, don’t get me wrong. The mind boggles because there were so many talented players that just couldn’t gel as a team. Virtually every shirt was an international player, like [Garry] Schofield and [Lee] Crooks. Wigan had the best team and we couldn’t knock them off their perch but we tried our best.
Playing for Sheffield must have been a totally different experience.
Absolutely! It was an up-and-coming club and we went up and down for the first couple of years I was there – a yo-yo club trying to find its feet. They were a remarkable club and it’s great to see them still going now. But my time there ended with them not wanting to give me a contract and me not wanting to play for nothing on principle. I’d rather have gone elsewhere to play for nothing, which I did! I think Gary Hetherington thought I wouldn’t go anywhere else but I went to Wakefield for five games, Rochdale for three and Swinton for eight. Anything than not being offered a contract at Sheffield which was a bit demeaning.
Everywhere I went seemed to be going through a transition period! Carlisle was no different. I came up here to take over from Cameron Bell as coach but with him going, the New Zealand element disappeared. There weren’t many players up here and money was short. We were always scrapping around for an ‘A’ Team and even a first team at times. Everyone gave their all but when you’re battling against finances it isn’t easy.
Tell us about the rest of your career.
I played for Scotland in the Emerging Nations World Cup in 1995 but we could only have three professionals in the side so I went to play for Egremont. We played a trial game beforehand and the secretary of the Scottish Rugby Union threatened to have union players who played in that game banned from union! I also played for South Wales in their only year in 1996 – the potential was there but if you’re not successful on the pitch, people won’t come and watch. I spent my last two years in the professional game at Barrow and then was part of the Border Eagles team that won the Scottish Conference in 1998.
Do you think we’ll see a professional team in Carlisle again?
No. The support was here at one time but it would need a very successful team here for people to come and watch it.
What do you think of the modern game?
It’s still the best game in the world. I watch it and think, ‘did I really play that game?’ I wonder if I’d cope with it – but you adapt of course. It’s still very entertaining but it’s gone a bit too Australianised. There isn’t as much flair and it’s life or death if someone makes a mistake.