Hardisty delighted as Tigers turn back the clock

Former Castleford and Leeds Rugby League legend Alan Hardisty.
Former Castleford and Leeds Rugby League legend Alan Hardisty.
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Few people are better placed than the legendary Alan Hardisty to assess what makes the complete stand-off.

Some said he was the epitome of what a No 6 should be and ardent followers at Castleford believe the man who captained them to the 1969 Challenge Cup final, repeating the feat a year later, was the finest player their club has produced.

Forming a memorable partnership with scrum-half Keith Hepworth, he went on to play 401 games for the Glassblowers, scoring 206 tries and creating countless others.

Leeds supporters will recall an ageing but still influential Hardisty, who famously arrived at Headingley for nothing after a fall-out with his cherished home-town club’s committee, applying his vision and skills to help win the 1971-72 Championship, their last captain to do so before Kevin Sinfield ended a 32-year drought in 2004.

It was only because the sport at the time was graced with so many outstanding stand-offs – Mick Shoebottom and Roger Millward to name two – that Hardisty did not win more than 12 Test caps but, nevertheless, the Australians feared and coveted him.

Indeed, his only major regret was when Castleford denied him the chance to sign for all-conquering Sydney side St George after his first Lions tour in ’66, something which in part later led to his bitter departure.

Tonight, two of the modern game’s great playmakers go head-to-head as Hardisty’s erstwhile clubs encounter each other at his old stomping ground of Wheldon Road.

Castleford’s current maestro is the enigmatic Rangi Chase, undoubtedly the star of this Super League season, while England’s Danny McGuire, who made his comeback off the bench against Crusaders on Monday, is expected to make his first Leeds start in eight months after knee surgery.

Hardisty, while saddened by the increasingly prevalent tactic of fashioning tries with kicks, is a fan of both players.

“Rangi attacks the line,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“He takes a man on which is nice to see nowadays, and is certainly playing well for Cas.

“He tends to be a bit more like my pal Heppy – when he gets the ball he’s not sure where he’s going himself.

“Keith was like that whereas I knew before I got the ball where I was going. People used to say ‘how do you follow Keith?’ and I said ‘I don’t. When he gets the ball, I run straight and nine times out of 10 he jigs about that much he comes back to me’.

“That’s how I linked. Danny (Orr) is doing the same thing now in a role reversal; he’s the man dictating play and Rangi’s doing his own thing.”

Orr’s experience alongside the maverick flair of his Kiwi team-mate has seen Castleford inhabit the upper echelons of Super League this season although a surprise loss against Wakefield and controversial defeat at St Helens over Easter mean Leeds, who arrive with a much-needed four points from the holiday period, could draw level with them in fifth with victory tonight.

The return of McGuire and England captain Jamie Peacock – back for the first time since rupturing his own knee, ironically at Wheldon Road, last August – should enhance those prospects.

“They’ll respond to those two being back and it’ll make it harder for Cas,” said Hardisty, who turns 70 in July but is still treating patients aplenty at his therapy practice in the town.

“They’ve missed them. Whether McGuire will be the same man after his bad knee, I don’t know.

“It’s hard to recover from that and get back to what you were.

“His position relies on acceleration and if he loses even a bit of that it will stop him being the same player.

“He’s a nice footballer, though.”

There are currently plenty of skilled players in Castleford’s own ranks, prompting fans from Hardisty’s era to liken the present crop of burgeoning home-grown youngsters to those that formed the bedrock of those halcyon days in the 1960s.

“We did have a good side back then with Bill Bryant the first to sign,” he recalled.

“Then there was Peter Small, me and Keith walked in looking for a game, Malcolm (Reilly) a bit later.

“There were other Cas lads who don’t always get a mention like Derek Edwards, Trevor Briggs. Johnny Ward, Mick Redfearn and Clive Dickinson. Things have improved quite a bit this season and it’s a real breath of fresh air to see the young lads coming in.

“The game quickens when they come on, especially the young hooker Daryl Clark; he really lights it up.

“We’re all a bit fed up with the second-rate Aussies who have come along past their best.

“We could have got a lot of players for what we paid for (Brent) Sherwin the other year.

“When he first came, I thought his legs had gone. I could see he’d been a nice player in his time with the skills but you can’t play this game without any legs and his weren’t there anymore.

“I’m hoping the club has maybe seen the light now and they’ll bring more through.

“We’ve seen some go in Michael Shenton and Joe Westerman but if we produce enough, we can afford to let a couple leave; Roger Millward left us back when I was playing.”

Hardisty, part of the last Lions team to win in Australia 41

years ago and who twice defeated the Kangaroos with Castleford at Wheldon Road, admitted he relished the annual derby match.

“They were big games and it was a bit of a war,” he said.

“We could beat Leeds and had our own private battles – me and Mick Shoebottom, a tough player always trying to give me a hiding.

“Syd Hynes was always battling with Clive Dickinson for some reason, Dennis Hartley would be battling with all the pack. He was the one they feared then Malcolm (Reilly) and Bill Ramsey would be knocking hell out of each other.”