Dave Craven: Hanley, Fox and Sullivan likely to miss out on Wembley statue

DECIDING just which player should be immortalised in the form of a statue outside Wembley Stadium is proving a lot more difficult than initially imagined.

Five different panels, formed by the Rugby Football League, have sat in the last seven days alone to discuss the subject as the debate continues. Those include a selection of coaches (chaired by Steve McNamara), Super League chairman and chief executives, a cross-section of fans and, of course, the views of the press, including both journalists and national sports editors.

In light of yesterday’s announcement about Wembley staging a 2013 World Cup semi-final double-header, that would seem the perfect date to actually unveil the statue.

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Indeed, once the decision is made about who will be the subject, it would give ample time for a sculptor to be commissioned, design the statue and have it erected in readiness for next November.

But who will it be? An initial poll of fans elicited more than 12,000 votes from which 35 different players were suggested. However, of those, a total of 13 players commanded 80 per cent and they have since formed the short-list. That is now being discussed and, unfortunately for this region, there aren’t too many Yorkshire names in the mix.

The criteria is based on someone who performed well at the famous venue and will forever be linked to it but, also, the RFL is hoping to name someone who did his utmost to promote the game during his career.

That is one reason why perhaps Leeds-born Ellery Hanley, who delivered so many legendary tries and astounding performances during Wigan’s halcyon Challenge Cup days, is unlikely to feature.

Don Fox, meanwhile, is obviously synonymous with Wembley for his display in Wakefield’s 1968 Challenge Cup Watersplash final when, having already won the Lance Todd Trophy for a typically impressive performance, his missed conversion attempt in the last seconds actually gifted Leeds victory.

The feeling is that, for all his greatness, making Fox the subject of the statue would be akin to celebrating failure. If a statue for the Grand National was being discussed, it would be similar to picking Devon Loch over Red Rum.

The only other statue currently standing at Wembley is Sir Bobby Moore, England football’s victorious 1966 World Cup captain, and rugby league’s problem, partly, is the fact they have no such counterpart as, when Clive Sullivan led Great Britain to World Cup success in 1972, it was, of course, at Lyon in France and not on the fabled Wembley turf.

Although Sullivan did play there in the famous Hull v Hull KR final of 1980, he did not dazzle like some of the players being touted for the honour.

Martin Offiah is, understandably, a contender given he scored perhaps the most famous try at Wembley with his spectacular effort for Wigan in 1994.

Likewise, Jim Sullivan is a popular choice in his role as the first captain to lift the trophy at Wembley with Wigan in 1929.

Eric Ashton, who captained Wigan to three wins in ‘58’, ‘59 and ‘65, and his brilliant winger Billy Boston are also in the frame.

Andy Gregory, who appeared in eight finals with Widnes and Wigan, is similarly in contention as is his erstwhile half-back partner Shaun Edwards.

The RFL’s board of directors will make the final decision but it is ironic, given their large presence in the thinking so far, that Wigan – the most successful Challenge Cup team in history – still have no venue for their quarter-final against arch-rivals St Helens next Saturday due to the town’s football club taking priority at the DW Stadium.

That should be the subject of a more pressing debate and again open the question of why does ground stadia matter in the Super League licensing process if you cannot even play on your own pitch?