Lee Jackson’s storied career headlined by a stint in the ARL alongside great Andrew Johns

UNLIKE during his illustrious playing career, when instant rapier thrusts became his trademark, there is a moment’s hesitation when Lee Jackson is asked about rugby league immortal Andrew Johns.

ee Jackson spent three years with Newcastle Knights in Australia’s NRL, and he is pictured playing here against the New Zealand Warriors. (Picture: Getty Images)
ee Jackson spent three years with Newcastle Knights in Australia’s NRL, and he is pictured playing here against the New Zealand Warriors. (Picture: Getty Images)

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The pair were Newcastle Knights team-mates for three years, including that magical 1997 season when Kangaroos legend Johns famously helped his side win a maiden Grand Final with just 20 seconds remaining on the clock to break Manly hearts.

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The debate still goes on with some as to whether the sublime scrum-half is the greatest player of all time.

Jackson, the lithe hooker from Hull who helped Great Britain twice beat Australia at Wembley and returned in 1999 to lift the Challenge Cup with Leeds Rhinos, has his own opinion.

“Andrew Johns was a fantastic player,” he told The Yorkshire Post, while breaking off from his job of the last 15 years, driving a taxi around Hull.

“If I had to have one person in my team, he’d probably be the second.

“The first person I’d put down would be Ellery Hanley.

Lee Jackson of Leeds Rhinos runs at the London Broncos line

“Andrew was unbelievable. The stuff he did. He basically won us that Grand Final in ‘97 through his sheer brilliance.

“I don’t think anybody else could have pulled it off because he shouldn’t have played. He had a punctured lung and was only running at 50 per cent.

“But Andrew being Andrew, he was brilliant. Unfortunately, though, off the field, let’s just say we didn’t see eye to eye.

“We had a bit of a fall-out and didn’t really speak afterwards.”

Hull FC's Lee Jackson in the midst of the action against Halifax Blue Sox at The Boulevard on Good Friday, 2001. (Picture: Terry Carrott)

Of course, such matters are not uncommon in teams. Jackson has no qualms.

Looking back on his career, the 51-year-old has a couple of regrets but everything is offset by the fact he achieved so much.

When still with Hull, he had been part of the Great Britain side coached by Malcolm Reilly (who later took him to Newcastle) that brought the Kangaroos to their knees at Wembley in 1990.

Alongside two-try Hull team-mate Paul Eastwood and Karl Harrison, the brilliant Hanley, Garry Schofield and Andy Gregory, they prospered 19-12.

“The actual game itself went so quick,” recalled Jackson.

“No one gave us a cat in hell’s chance of beating them but Malcolm put a relatively young side together with some older heads in there.

“There was people like Andy Greg’ but also Ellery Hanley. Everything about Ellery was phenomenal.

“Even when he became coach later.

“We did a great job that day but unfortunately we didn’t win the series and I do always blame myself.”

In the second Test at Old Trafford, with the game level at 10-10 and the hosts pressing, Jackson’s rare defensive lapse saw Ricky Stuart race away downfield to set up Mal Meninga’s match-winning try.

Great Britain had not won the Ashes since 1970. To this day, they still have not.

“I took Ricky Stuart’s dummy and left myself in no man’s land,” explained the Yorkshireman.

“But at the end of the day I thought I was doing the right thing getting in between somebody.

“Yet Ricky Stuart was probably the best person on that field to give a dummy and off he went.

“We almost did it and it was such a shame we didn’t.”

That said, if Paul Loughlin had got nearer the posts for his earlier try, perhaps Eastwood would not have missed the conversion attempt and the Lions would have led 12-10 going into the latter stages.

Jackson added: “Yes, but you don’t think of that when you’ve got those Aussies chasing you and the mentality they have; you just want to get over that line.

“There’s loads of things that could have gone differently but at the end of the day we lost and lost that series as we were rubbish in the third Test at Elland Road.

“We always seemed to win the first game at Wembley – we did the same in ‘94 – but as the series went on they always got better and better.”

By that point, after a fall-out over his contract, Jackson had left Hull for Sheffield Eagles in an £83,000 transfer, making him the world’s most expensive hooker.

He said: “I’m thankful to Sheffield; they got me away from Hull and at the time it was probably the best thing, even though I’m a Hull lad.

“Overall when I look back it probably is the best thing I did do as I don’t think I’d have done what I did if I’d have stayed.

“I had some fantastic times at Hull. And some crappy ones! Winning the ‘91 Premiership against Widnes at Old Trafford was great. It was a fantastic team but unfortunately the Board at the time weren’t thinking about the future.

“Straight after that the team disbanded as the Board had no ambition. It was such a shame as it was such a good side.”

During his three years at Sheffield, Jackson had a brief two-month spell with South Sydney which gave him a taste for life in Australia.

In 1996, as the Super League war began and a year after being in an England side beaten by Australia in a World Cup final at Wembley, he accepted Reilly’s offer to join Newcastle in the ARL.

While there, Jackson enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s best No9s before heading home to join a Leeds side showing signs of revival under Graham Murray.

Alongside former Sheffield team-mates Daryl Powell, Ryan Sheridan, Andy Hay and Anthony Farrell as well as his Newcastle colleague Marc Glanville, he helped them win the Challenge Cup for the first time in 21 years.

Jackson came on for Terry Newton, the former Great Britain hooker who tragically took his own life in 2010. He said: “Terry was a lovely lad. He was such a highly-strung kid and it did catch up with him in the end unfortunately. But he was a great player and we got on well. People think I’m kidding when I say this, but I always thought Terry was, overall, better than Keiron Cunningham.

“Keiron was a fantastic hooker in his own right but I did always think Terry was ahead of him.

“Winning the Challenge Cup that year was my Rhinos high point and the lowest was losing it the year after at Murrayfield.

“One of my regrets was not staying at Leeds. I had the option of another year but Hull were offering me more stability and I went back there.

“It was probably one of the worst decisions coming back to Hull. Leeds then went on that great run of winning Grand Finals, something I’d always wanted to do.

“I never got near that afterwards but I’ve been to five clubs and loved every one.

“I won something at all of them apart from Sheffied. And Souths but I was only there for eight games.

“I finished off at York and had some great times there, getting promoted in my last game before retiring in 2005. I’ve loved it.”

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