HE has just been inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame as one of the sport’s greatest players yet Andy Gregory admits failing to shine with Leeds remains one of his biggest regrets.
The iconic former Great Britain scrum-half is fondly remembered for starring in the great trophy-hoarding Wigan sides of the late 80s/early 90s having first emerged as a star of the Widnes teams that won the 1981 and 1984 Challenge Cup finals.
The unmistakable No 7, so diminutive but with a bulky frame and wonderful passing game, terrorised defences at club and international level and is a player who created so much history.
Not only the first player to win the Lance Todd Trophy twice but the first to win five Challenge Cups, the first to play in eight Challenge Cup finals and once commanding the biggest rugby league transfer fee when Wigan paid Warrington £130,000 for his services in 1986.
Gregory was only 30 when he switched to Headingley in 1992, joining his former Cherry and Whites colleagues Ellery Hanley (the Great Britain captain had moved in a world-record £250,000 deal the previous year) and Shaun Wane.
Wigan and Great Britain back-row Andy Goodway would soon join, too; the big-spending West Yorkshire club, under Gregory’s former Widnes chief Dougie Laughton, were desperate to break up the Cherry and Whites’ monopoly of trophies in any way possible.
When people ask me about my highs and lows – and I’ve had a few ups and downs, like everyone, on and off the field – I am disappointed, personally, that I didn’t perform for Leeds. I must admit the Leeds fans never saw the best of Andy Gregory.Andy Gregory
Leeds already had stars such as Great Britain’s Garry Schofield and Alan Tait in their ranks yet, for one reason or another – and as was so often the case with the Loiners – their bold recruitment failed to pay off.
“When Leeds came in for me, I thought we could have the makings of a great side,” said Gregory in an exclusive interview at the ‘Hall Of Fame’ dinner at Elland Road.
“I played with Mike O’Neill at Widnes, I knew Alan Tait really well and Richie Eyres. Soon, there was Andy Goodway from Wigan as well so I knew a lot of them. Ellery was a lad who was my captain at Wigan for years and years and years and when Dougie came in for me, well…
“I think Leeds are a massive club. I really do. When I was there we had great fans. I felt sorry for them and, personally, sorry for the board as well.
“I think I only had one good game in a Challenge Cup quarter-final at Headingley against Castleford and as for all the rest…
“I don’t know what it was; whether it was because I was travelling from Widnes every day. I’d set off one day at seven o’clock and get there at eight, and the next day I’d set off at seven and get there at 11. We had some great players in that side but we just never clicked together.”
The common consensus was perhaps there were too many cooks spoiling the broth with the likes of Gregory, Schofield and Hanley all in the same team and there was plenty of tales about poor team spirit at the time, too.
Indeed, Gregory later revealed as much in his autobiography.
However, he admitted that he wished he had achieved more.
“When people ask me about my highs and lows – and I’ve had a few ups and downs, like everyone, on and off the field – I am disappointed, personally, that I didn’t perform for Leeds.
“I must admit the Leeds fans never saw the best of Andy Greg’.
“I remember we got beat by Widnes at Central Park which I think was the only semi-final I ever lost. (Chief executive) Alf Davies, who was a great bloke, and the fans and supporters club, wanted me to do well but I didn’t.
“I said to Dougie, ‘if you don’t let me go to a Lancashire club I’m going to pack in the game.’
“I told him I wasn’t playing well; I felt embarrassed taking this money every month and he said ‘Greg, if you can find it, fine.’
“I found Salford and had one good year there. I was getting old but always set myself a standard.”
Gregory – whose brilliant break famously set-up namesake Mike when Great Britain beat Australia in Sydney in 1988 – was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Hull legend Johnny Whiteley and the late former Wakefield Trinity captain Derek ‘Rocky’ Turner.
“I’ve known Johnny from when he was in management and I was playing for Great Britain. What a great player he was. And what can you say about ‘Rocky’ Turner?
“Looking around the walls here it’s a great event and it’s crazy to think of the 28 players who are now in the Hall of Fame I’m only the 11th who is still living.
“But I’m just made up to have my mam, my wife, my brother and friends here, including one who is especially special to me - my schoolteacher Mr Birchall.
“I never got picked for Wigan schoolboys, Lancashire Schoolboys or England schoolboys but he told me ‘Greg, you’ve got some talent. Stick with it.’ And I did.”