On This Day – 2 January
50 years ago this day, legendary stand-off half Steve Hartley made his Rovers debut in a 12-10 home win over Wakefield Trinity.
Hull-born Hartley signed for the Robins from Craven Park Juniors in 1970. In the early stages, he found opportunities hard to come by, mainly due to the presence of Roger Millward in the No 6 jersey. But the arrival of Harry Poole as coach in late 1975 changed all that. Poole saw his potential, and quickly made him his first choice off-half, moving Millward to scrum-half.
His fast and elusive running, coupled with his sidestep and change of pace, made him one of the most devastating finishers in the game. The sight of him racing through a gap and rounding the full-back for one of his ‘specials’ is one that will live in the memories of all those who saw him at his peak.
The arrival of Allan Agar in the late 1970s meant that he sometimes moved to centre, where he played in the 1980 Wembley final. But he was always at his best in the off-half role, looking for a short pass to run onto at pace and leave the defence in tatters. He was arguably the best finisher the club has had.
Hartley played his last game for Rovers in the John Player trophy at home to Rochdale on 2 December 1984. Not wanting to play for any other club, he simply retired when he learned that Rovers planned to sell him to Hunslet. In 369 appearances for the Robins, he scored 191 tries, making him second only to Roger Millward in the club’s all-time try-scorers list. The First Division championship season of 1978/79 was his most prolific when he scored 35 tries to become the league’s top try scorer for the season. Hartley won three Great Britain caps.
Hartley shared a testimonial with his old friend John Millington in 1979/80. With Millington, Hartley showed another valuable side to his character. Both were dressing room comedians, who could always lift the dressing room tension and relax the other players.
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