Bygones: No denying Ellery Hanley rightful place in pantheon of greats to grace the game

Ellery Hanley with hs Golden Boot.
Ellery Hanley with hs Golden Boot.
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IT IS 30 years ago that Ellery Hanley – one of the greatest-ever rugby league players – became the first British winner of the prestigious Golden Boot.

When the Wigan and Great Britain star received recognition as the world’s best player in 1988, the award was actually still in its infancy, yet had already seen some legendary names adorn it.

Wally Lewis was its inaugural recipient for his exploits in 1984 when the iconic stand-off led Australia and Queensland State of Origin to glory but also memorably had his famous spell with Wakefield Trinity.

Then came another brilliant Kangaroos No6 Brett Kenny (1985), Balmain Tigers full-back Garry Jack (1986) and New Zealand back-row Hugh McGahan and Australia scrum-half Peter Sterling, who shared it in 1987.

However, there was no denying Yorkshireman Hanley’s place in the pantheon in 1988.

The Great Britain captain had already twice won the Man of Steel as the British game’s finest player, first in 1985, with Bradford Northern where he had emerged as a prolific centre.

Andrew Johns.

Andrew Johns.

Two years later, he did so again having scored a staggering 63 tries in his second season at Wigan following a £150,000 move from Odsal. It was a wise investment; that record haul helped see the Cherry and Whites win their first league title since 1960.

Leeds-born Hanley, just as dynamic at stand-off, eventually established himself as a No 13 with Wigan and GB although, ironically, 1987-1988 started out turbulently; Hanley fell out with his club, lost the captaincy, was dropped from the team and even transfer-listed.

Still, ultimately, he was going nowhere; Hanley was recalled for the Challenge Cup semi-final and scored a famous try as they then lifted the trophy, starting that remarkable record run of eight successive Wembley triumphs.

Hanley was then named Lions captain as they headed off on tour and, although it ended in a series defeat against Australia, he famously led them to their first win over them in 10 years when they clinched the third Test in Sydney.

The Great Britain captain had already twice won the Man of Steel as the British game’s finest player, first in 1985, with Bradford Northern where he had emerged as a prolific centre.

Dave Craven

After a brief tour of New Zealand, Hanley returned to Sydney to star as a ‘guest’ import for Balmain alongside the aforementioned Jack. He was only there eight weeks but became an instant fans’ favourite – (some feat for any Pom’) and was inspirational helping unfancied Tigers suddenly reached a Grand Final.

It was there, though, where ‘The Black Pearl’ was involved in one of the showpiece’s most infamous incidents ever.

Hit with a horrendously late, high shot by Canterbury’s Terry Lamb after around half-an-hour, dazed Hanley had to leave the field. The cynical foul went unnoticed but Balmain’s main threat was off and they lost 24-12.

Only three British players have won the Golden Boot since: Garry Schofield (1990), Kevin Sinfield (2014) – both while playing for Leeds – and another Wigan and Great Britain loose forward in the shape of Andy Farrell (2004).

The 2018 Golden Boot winner will be announced at Elland Road, Leeds on Wednesday.