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Vince Karalius

THE criteria for being given rugby league's highest individual award reads: "Election to the Hall of Fame is the ultimate honour in rugby league. It is based on an individual's record, ability, sportsmanship and overall impact on the game. Only those who have made an indelible contribution to the history of the game shall be elected."

Such a citation fitted Vince Karalius perfectly. Impact on the game? Certainly, and on a few bodies from Salford to Sydney. Karalius, who has died aged 76, became the first forward to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. In an era of great loose forwards, the 50s and 60s, Karalius was the one to be feared most of all. If classy Johnny Whiteley was the Prince, then Karalius was Attila the Hun on the rampage.

The craggy features, bulging muscles and fearless approach; even the name Karalius sounded like a snarl. Although no Australian forward would admit to fearing anyone, all treated him with the utmost respect.

His fearsome reputation was founded on Great Britain's Ashes-winning tour of 1958 when the Australian media dubbed him "The Wild Bull of the Pampas". The original "Wild Bull" was an Argentinian heavy-weight boxer who once knocked the great Jack Dempsey out of the ring.

Karalius had the same disregard for the highest of reputations and enjoyed crushing Australians and others in a 12-match Test career.

You do not achieve what Karalius achieved on brute force alone, however. His was controlled aggression allied to brilliant ball-handling skills. In the days when loose forward was still very much a specialist position his partnership with scrum half Alex Murphy for St Helens and Great Britain remains one of the all-time great combinations. Both made their Test debuts on the 1958 tour and went on to share many other triumphs for club and country, including World Cup success in 1960.

Karalius's parents were from Ireland and Scotland, while his grandparents were Lithuanian. Although born in Widnes, where he played for West Bank Juniors, the teenage Karalius was quickly snapped up by St Helens for a bargain 200 in 1951. It was the beginning of a great era for the club in which they won the RL Challenge Cup and Championship, both twice, although he did not play in the 1953 play-off final.

Karalius was captain when they beat Wigan at Wembley in 1961 and he was to lift the trophy again three years later after leading Widnes to victory over Hull Kingston Rovers. He had signed for his home town club in 1962 and was a key figure in the club's rise to power. In two spells as coach, he steered them to two more Challenge Cup successes at Wembley.

He was also coach at Wigan for three years before later enjoying the fruits of his success as a sportsman and in the scrap metal business in retirement on the Isle of Man.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and two daughters.

 
 
 

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