On This Day – 23 January

Category: Heritage

On This Day – 23 January

On this day 44 years ago, 1980s club legend David Watkinson made his debut for Rovers in a 25-9 win over Leeds at Craven Park. Most of ‘Watky’s’ Rovers appearances were at hooker, but he played at prop that day. It was an inspired piece of business by the Robins, who plucked their man from amateur football, where he was playing for the famous Heworth club in York.

Watkinson took to the first division of the professional game like a duck to water, never for a moment looking out of place, and he made eight more appearances that season, either at prop or from the bench. That October, Watkinson displaced regular hooker Dave Heslop after a defeat at Featherstone, and two months later picked up his first winners’ medal with the Robins, in the famous 23-11 BBC Floodlit Trophy final win over St Helens. By then, he had become Rovers’ first choice number nine, and was a key member of the 1978/79 Championship-winning side.

Injury marred the two following seasons for him, but he returned in both for the later Challenge Cup stages, and made his first two Wembley appearances – the first in the 1980 ‘derby final’. Watkinson won his second championship medal in the 1983/84 double-winning side, but again injury struck and he was forced to sit out the second half of the season. Despite that, Roger Millward chose him as his new skipper for the 1984/85 season, and he missed only five games out of 46 as the Robins retained the Championship and won the John Player Trophy.

A Yorkshire Cup winners medal and a third Wembley appearance followed in 1986, but the end of the 1988/89 season, as his appearances had become less regular, he left the club to end his career at Dewsbury, subsequently returning to Heworth as coach. Watkinson made his last appearance for the Robins in a 26-2 defeat to Hull FC at the Boulevard on 4 Mach 1989. In just over 12 years with Rovers, he made 329 appearances, a figure that would have been significantly higher but for his long-term injury absences, and scored 13 tries.

A capable ball-winner and a hard and uncompromising tackler, Watkinson never shirked on the field, and was a tough and respected opponent. He played 13 times for Great Britain and once for England. Watkinson had a winning mentality; he was a leader by example, never giving less than 100% himself, and demanding no less from his team.

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