200 Club​ No 18 – Asuquo Ema

Category: Heritage

200 Club​ No 18 – Asuquo Ema

Asuquo ‘Zook’ Ema was born in Beverley in July 1963 of Nigerian and English parents, who met at Hull University. His early years were spent in Nigeria, where he experienced the ordeal of being in the middle of the Biafran civil war. Zook returned to East Yorkshire with his mother after his father was tragically killed.

Whilst at Wyke school, playing rugby union, Ema was introduced to rugby league by a school friend and joined Hull Boys Club. From there he signed up for Rovers Colts, and had made his way up via the A team to make his first team debut from the bench in the first match of the 1983/84 season. Shortly after that, he sustained a serious knee injury and had to have knee reconstruction and missed a year of his rugby career.

After working his way back to fitness, Ema then profited when a pre-season injury to Roy Holdstock resulted in his being handed the no 10 jersey for the opening game of the 1984/85 season at Bradford. After a solid game in a great team performance that day, he retained his place and scored his first try for the club in a man-of-the-match performance at home to Leigh the following week. Incredibly by today’s standards, Ema started in 40 out of 46 games that season, playing a full 80 minutes in most of them, and finished his first full season in the first team with Championship and John Player Trophy medals.

It is worthy of note that Ema’s first four derby games were the unforgettable home derby of October 1984, when Rovers overturned a 16-2 half-time deficit to win 26-17; a Yorkshire Cup final defeat; the 12-0 John Player Trophy win at a frozen Boothferry Park; and Rovers 36-12 Easter 1985 win at the Boulevard – their highest ever-score on that ground.

In 1985/86, Ema actually bettered his playing record of the previous season, playing in 42 consecutive games before being rested, along with most of the first team, in three end-of-season games; a period in which Rovers faced a fixture glut of eleven games in April. He ended that season with a Wembleyappearance, albeit a losing one, when he was one of the few players to do himself justice in the 15-14 loss to Castleford.

It had been a remarkable first two seasons in Rovers’ first team for the 23-year old – 86 appearances, four cup finals and three winners’ medals. Sadly, after that, whilst Ema remained a regular member of the team for the next five seasons, it was in a declining side. Perhaps that is why he was never recognized with an international cap – certainly worse players than him have played for their country.

The club’s struggles came to a head in 1988/89, when Rovers were relegated to Division Two, and against a background of spiraling cost to maintain their Craven Park stadium, moved home to Preston Road. Ema had the honour of playing in that last game at the old ground, a very spirited 16-13 defeat to champions-elect Widnes. He played in the second row that day, as he did on a dozen or so occasions in his last few seasons.

Ema was a regular member of the 1989/90 side that stormed to an immediate return to the first division, the only disappointment being the loss in the Divisional Play-Off Final against Oldham at Old Trafford – a game that had appeared to be in the bag when Rovers led 29-8 early in the second half. The following season, he made 26 appearances as Rovers consolidated their position in the First Division, but by 1991/92 he was starting to suffer a few niggling injuries, and mindful of his reconstructed knee and the potential impact of further serious injury on his career in the fire service, he decided to call it a day at the end of the season – still at the comparatively early age of 28.

Ema made his last Rovers’ appearance from the bench in the home Easter derby of 1992. There was no happy ending, as the Robins lost 12-8 that dayagainst a Black & Whites outfit that were desperate for the points to stave off relegation. In all, he played in 233 games for the Robins, and scored 18 tries. He was a strong and mobile prop-forward, with a solid defence and a safe pair of hands. Looking back, it is doubtful whether a lot of the props of years gone by would have made it in the modern game, but Ema is one who almost certainly would.

He looks back on his days with the Robins with great affection. As only the second black man to play for the club, it is refreshing in today’s climate to hear him say that he never suffered any racial abuse in rugby league. A popular and intelligent man, he is a fine ambassador for the club and the city that he loves.

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