The Great Mick Sullivan

RUGBY League fans who watched the game in the 1950s and 1960s were well aware of the tremendous ability of Mick Sullivan at club and representative level, writes Alex Service.

Apart from speed, the essential prerequisite for any successful winger, he was a real hard man too, with what could only be described as downright aggressive defence! It is, therefore, sad to report his passing in Dewsbury at the age of 82. He had been unwell for some time.

Born in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, on January 12 1934, Mick first tasted rugby league success with the famous Shaw Cross Boys’ Club in Dewsbury, where Lee Gilmour played in a later era. He began his professional career with Huddersfield, making his debut against Dewsbury in a 21-6 victory at Crown Flatt. He scored two tries and that was the trigger for one of the most prolific careers in the thirteen-a-side code.

The flying Sullivan became a World Cup winner at the age of 20, in 1954, making his debut against Australia in Lyon. He went on to set a record for the most Great Britain caps, with 46 – a record later equalled by Garry Schofield. Mick also won his second World Cup in 1960, the only British player to win the competition twice. In all, he scored 120 tries in 102 representative games for Great Britain, England and Yorkshire – a fantastic achievement!

His try-scoring exploits for Huddersfield [117 appearances 93 tries] attracted big-spending Wigan and he joined the Riversiders in 1957 for a world record £9,500 fee. He went on to play at Wembley with Wigan in two Challenge Cup finals [1958 and 1959] before he was on the move again, this time crossing the Rubicon to Knowsley Road in another sensational transfer saga, just before the Challenge Cup deadline in January 1961.

It took the Saints’ Board another record £11,000 to secure his services and by the end of the season he had won another Challenge Cup winner’s medal in that epic Wembley encounter with the club he left behind. St. Helens won 12-6 on a baking-hot afternoon and one of the great individual contests of that game was Sully against his former team-mate Billy Boston. Indeed, that three-quarter line remains one of Saints’ most memorable in the red vee: van Vollenhoven, Large, McGinn and Sullivan.

Mick went on to win two Lancashire Cup finals with the Saints and although his overall try-scoring tally during his three seasons at Knowsley Road, 31 in 82 matches, was relatively modest compared to his early days, he was still a hugely popular figure with the supporters. In the match against Huddersfield, at Knowsley Road, on February 3 1962, he rolled back the years and ran riot, with five scintillating touchdowns.

Brian McGinn was his centre too, with Dick Huddart unusually partnering Tom van Vollenhoven on the other flank. His last match as a Saint was on the left wing against Oldham, at Watersheddings, on May 30 1963. Sully signed off with a try and his centre was Wigan-born Mick Mooney.

Former Saints’ great Austin Rhodes remains a huge admirer of Sullivan’s ability in his pomp: “One of the greatest players of the 1950s. I remember him as a team-mate during the 1957 World Cup with Great Britain and he was brilliant. I played against him when he was with Huddersfield and in one particular match he scored two tries and went round Glyn Moses as though he was a statue and that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Mind you, he could do that against most full-backs at the time.”

Mick joined York and then became Player-Coach of Dewsbury. It is almost fifty years ago [April 16 1966] when his Dewsbury side gave Saints a real fight in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Swinton, losing 12 points to 5, when an exasperated Minnie Cotton came on to the field! Mick was loose forward that day and, probably, it was our last memory of him. Mick went on to coach in Australia [June] and eventually he was inducted into the prestigious Rugby League Hall of Fame.

No-one deserved it more and we send our condolences to Mick’s family at this sad time.

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