St Helens legend Dick Huddart has sadly passed away

Dick Huddart, one of the Immortals of British Rugby League and a member of St Helens R.F.C's greatest 17 has sadly passed away at the age of 85.

Dick Huddart
St Helens Heritage #756

Born: Flimby, Cumbria 22nd June 1936
Died: Gold Coast, Australia 11th August 2021

The ‘Immortal’ description is quite apt for him, as Rugby League Historian Robert Gate wrote: “Many critics argue that the game has never seen a more devastating, damaging or explosive running forward than Dick and they may be right.” They were indeed. Anyone who had the pleasure to watch Huddart in full flight, whether friend or foe, would undoubtedly concur.

In the late 1950s, the Saints’ Board brought in several fresh faces to heighten the strike power and crowd appeal of the first team squad. In the backs, two wingers were signed from South African rugby union – Tom Van Vollenhoven and Jan Prinsloo – a devastating combination on the flanks. There was also second-rower Dick Huddart, from Whitehaven RLFC, who had shown such marvelous form during Great Britain’s Ashes-winning tour Down Under in 1958 and St. Helens were more than keen to obtain his signature, in October 1958. Like the famous petrol advert of the time, the Saints intended to put a ‘tiger in their tank’ and were quite prepared to get their man whatever the cost.

Born in Flimby on 22nd June 1936, Dick began playing rugby with the Risehow amateur club and turned professional with Whitehaven for a £250 fee in 1955. Rugby was in his DNA: “My dad played amateur rugby league and I followed him down the mines as a fitter, a job that I did for nine years,” he recalled in 2010. ”I signed for Whitehaven when I was 18 and played in the back row and in the centres. I could always run and I modelled myself on that great second-rower Geoff Gunney, who played for Hunslet. I watched him and thought that I could do a similar job. In the end, I replaced him in the Great Britain side!”

A Cumberland representative in his first month in the professional ranks, he helped Whitehaven to beat the visiting Australian tourists and reach their one and only Challenge Cup semi-final in 1957, when they were narrowly beaten by Leeds. He duly became Whitehaven’s only British Lion when he was selected for the famous 1958 Great Britain tour to Australasia and gained a fearsome reputation with his devastating running, tearing into the opposition defences with a deadly combination of power and pace. He made his test debut in sensational circumstances in the second test at Brisbane, with Great Britain 1-0 down in the series against the Green and Golds.

They won 25-18 despite severe injury problems on the field [including Alan Prescott’s broken arm] and trounced the Aussies 40-17 in the third. Put through the gaps by Wigan front-rower Brian McTigue, his reputation was burgeoning. It was fellow 1958 tourist Vince Karalius who tipped Saints off about a possible transfer. “As the [1958] tour went on I began to think that perhaps a move away from Whitehaven might further my career,” Dick recalled.

“After all, I was now in the same team as my good friend Vince and the likes of Alex Murphy, McTigue, Dave Bolton and Eric Ashton. I ended up being placed on the transfer list, but obviously Whitehaven weren’t happy about it.”

Former St. Helens Secretary Basil Lowe remembered that the Whitehaven club, perhaps understandably, didn’t really want to lose their first-ever Great Britain international: “The Whitehaven Board met in a local hall and it was obvious they were going to resist any transfer. Eventually, through the persuasive skills of [Chairman] Harry Cook, we won the day, but we were hardly welcome guests. In fact, we made the signing of Huddart using a toilet seat, as this was the only room we were offered”.

The strapping six foot and fifteen stone Cumbrian’s greatest asset was the ability to take a pass on the burst and carve huge holes in the opposition defences, together with his devastating combination of speed and tearaway straight running. Add to that a jackhammer hand-off, plus a safe pair of hands and it was not surprising that it took £7,250 – a record fee for a forward at the time – to bring him to Knowsley Road.

Huddart’s barnstorming runs soon made him a big favourite with the St. Helens crowd and he built up a fine partnership with Yorkshireman Brian Briggs in the second row. In 1958/59, the Saints were league Leaders and lifted the Championship trophy with a marvellous 44-22 success over Hunslet at Odsal Stadium in front of over 50,000 fans. Huddart scored a trademark touchdown, with his characteristic ‘hunched’ running style. “I was privileged at Saints to be in the same team at various times as three of the fastest second-row men in rugby league”, remembers Ray French. ”Jimmy Measures, John Mantle and Dick Huddart. But what a player this Huddart was. He had a magnificent hand-off. Defenders were repulsed almost like a snooker ball hitting the cushion and rebounding off it. He was also a real gentleman and, without doubt, one of the most popular players ever at St. Helens”.

Dick made his Saints’ debut at Workington [a ‘home’ game for him – he just got the train to the match from where he lived!] in a 10-10 draw on 18th October 1958. Walter Delves and Vince Karalius were his partners in the back row that afternoon. The last of his 209 matches for the club, including 76 tries, was at Warrington, on 29th February 1964. Saints won 17-10. He partnered Jimmy Mustard in the second row, with a young Duggie Laughton at loose forward.

His Lance Todd winning display at Wembley in 1961 will be long remembered by those who saw it, especially his devastating run that set up Alex Murphy for the first try. What a back row it was – Huddart, Don Vines and Vince Karalius! The 1961 final proved to be the pinnacle of Huddart’s career as a Saint, yet he also tasted much success on the international front with two Ashes-winning tours with Great Britain, in 1958 and 1962. Indeed, he ripped through the Aussies on their hard grounds in 1962 just like he tore through the best defences at club level back home on our more sodden turf. He played for Great Britain on twelve occasions whilst with St. Helens and made one appearance for England. For Huddart, the 1962 tourists were “the finest team ever to play the game.” Quite a compliment in itself. Just like in 1958, Huddart played more games than any other squad member.

Dick went on to win every honour with the Saints, including three successive Lancashire Cup Finals, from 1961-63. After the St Helens-Australia game in 1963, he talked to St George back-rower Johnny Raper about a possible move Down Under. At the age of 27, the ‘free spirited’ nature of Huddart told him it was time for a new challenge. An enthusiastic Johnny Raper reported back to his Secretary, Frank Facer and he was transferred to the Australian Champions St. George in 1964 for a £10,000 fee as the replacement for retiring back-rower Norm Provan. Dick went on to win a Grand Final with the Dragons in 1966, against Balmain, scoring a try that afternoon to become the first Great Britain international to win an Australian Premiership. He played 78 times for the Australian Saints, scoring 16 tries.

After a spell up country with Dubbo, he returned to England to play for Whitehaven, in 1970-71, as his wife, Iris, was missing her family, but subsequently he realised it was, perhaps, a mistake and returned to Australia after a divorce and eventually met his second wife, Lyn. They were together for twenty years until Dick moved on to the Gold Coast, aged 60, where he resided until the end. In an article for Larry Writer’s superb history of the St George Club, ‘Never Before, Never Again’ Dick’s free-spirited nature was encapsulated thus: “I enjoy life. Good mates, a few beers, the open air. I’m happy. I’m just so glad I came back to Australia. I love it here. I’ll die here.”

A member of the St. Helens and Whitehaven Halls of Fame, Dick was one of the Saints’ Greatest 17 squad selected as part of the final season celebrations at Knowsley Road in 2010. His inclusion was automatic and he remains a hero to the thousands who watched him play – a genuine St. Helens ‘Great.’

Dick’s son, Milton, a back-rower himself, also won an England cap whilst with Whitehaven. Unfortunately, he pre-deceased his father, on 14th March 2015.

Everyone at St Helens R.F.C. send their condolences to Dick’s family at this sad time.

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