Percival Thomas Harris

Rugby league hooker remembered as an all-time great

TOMMY Harris, one of the outstanding hookers in the history of rugby league, has died at his home in York, aged 79.

A native of Crumlin in Glamorgan, Tommy Harris began his career in rugby union with the Ynysddu club before graduating to Newbridge in the 1947-48 season, helping his side to finish as runners-up in the Welsh Club Championship.

He was one of four Newbridge players who turned professional in the 1949-50 season, Glyn Meredith going to Wakefield Trinity, Gran-ville James to Hunslet and Bill Hopkins to Hull. Tommy also joined Hull after asking the club for a chance to show them what he could do. The Hull directors believed he was too small for a rugby league forward but immediately changed their minds when he played a blinder in a trial for their reserve team in December 1949.

After his first team debut against Bradford Northern at Odsal on January 21, 1950, Tommy went on to play 444 games for Hull over the next 12 years, a period which saw the club rise to great heights, primarily on the back of a magnificent set of forwards.

Tommy was always easily the smallest member of that pack but no one attracted more attention. Often described as "a pocket Hercules", he almost redefined the role of a rugby league hooker. Although he knew well enough the dark arts of obtaining the ball from the scrum, he gave added value by his unceasing support play, scurrying runs, relentless tackling and total in-volvement in loose play and was quick enough to score 56 tries for Hull, a remarkable tally for a hooker in that era.

Tommy won two Championships with Hull (1955-56 and 1957-58), played in four losing Yorkshire Cup finals (1953, 1954, 1955 and 1959) and was twice a Wembley Finalist. Hull lost heavily to Wigan in the final of 1959 and to Wakefield Trinity in 1960, when the Queen pres-ented the Challenge Cup. On the latter occasion Tommy won the Lance Todd Trophy despite being in a team that was hammered 38-5. He remains the only hooker to have won that honour.

In a courageous performance he ran himself into the ground in a lost cause and finished up in hospital with severe concussion. He had played the last 35 minutes of the 68 he was on the field blind in his right eye.

At international level he won seven caps for Wales and captained a Welsh XIII against France at Toulouse in 1959, but his greatest glories were reserved for his 25 appearances in Great Brit-ain's Test teams between 1954 and 1960, a record for a hooker. He made tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1954 and 1958 and was a member of World Cup squads in 1957 and 1960. He figured in Ashes-winning series in 1956, 1958 and 1959, the latter being the last time the Ashes were won on British soil.

In 1962 he left Hull and be-come coach of York for 11 years, also playing a couple of games in 1966. He then became a director of York RLFC, serving on the board until 1987, and was elected Yorkshire County Rugby League president in 1985-86.

Outside rugby, Tommy Harris had been a dock rigger, a fitter's mate and a car salesman in Hull before taking the Dick Turpin Hotel at Woodthorpe in York.