On This Day – 4 January

Category: Heritage

On This Day – 4 January

On 4 January 1908, the Robins played an overseas touring team for the first time. 7,000 spectators at Craven Street saw them lose 6-3 to Albert Baskerville’s pioneering New Zealand touring team.

Rovers lost 6-3, with a first half try by legendary winger G.H.‘Tich’ West the only reward for their efforts. Perhaps the spirited performance they put up on the day inspired the Robins though, because in their next game they comfortably beat eventual champions Hunslet 23-11 to start their successful end-of-season run in which they won ten out of their remaining 13 league games to finish in sixth place out of 27 clubs – their best finish to date.

In addition to West, the Rovers team that day included figures such as prolific full-back Alf ‘Bunker’ Carmichael, who finished the season with 81 goals – comfortably beating his club record 44 set the previous year; long-serving forwards Andrew Windle and John Ellis, who made their debuts in Rovers’ first NU league season in 1899/1900; and the colourful try-scoring forward J.C.’Slasher’ Brain, whose career with the Robins was foreshortened by his long spell as a prisoner-of-war in World War 1. The game marked the end of the 172-game Rovers career of three-quarter Billy Phipps, who scored 32 tries for the Robins following his December 1900 debut.

The full Rovers team was – ‘Bunker’ Carmichael; ‘Tich’ West, Billy Phipps, J.W. Read, George Pratt; Arthur Booth, R.W. Cavill; Jim Gath, J.W. Taylor, John Ellis, W. Biggs, Andrew Windle, ‘Slasher’ Brain.

The tourists had played their first of the 46 matches of their tour against New South Wales in Sydney, and the success of their three Sydney games was the catalyst for the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League. It also enabled the New Zealanders to recruit future Australian legend Dally Messenger for the Wales and England leg of the tour. Messenger was to score a crucial try in the win at Craven Street.

After playing 35 games in England and Wales, Baskerville’s tourists returned home via Australia, where they played a further ten games, and the tour is widely credited with establishing the game in both Australia and New Zealand.

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