Leeds Rhinos Bygones: All Black ace proved out his depth at Leeds

John Gallagher. PIC: STEVE RIDING.
John Gallagher. PIC: STEVE RIDING.
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DIRECT TRANSFERS between Leeds Rhinos and this weekend’s opponents London Broncos are rare, but one player who did make the move down the M1 was former All Blacks rugby union full-back John Gallagher.

Leeds created a sensation on both sides of the world when they signed Gallagher in a £350,000 deal in June, 1990.

London-born Gallagher, who was 26, had just been voted the world’s best rugby union full-back and his move to Leeds created huge publicity for the club and the sport of rugby league, but on the field it was a failure.

Gallagher showed flashes of potential, particularly on attack, but found the protection provided by Leeds’ pack wasn’t the same as he’d enjoyed behind New Zealand’s forwards.

A crowd of 4,000 turned up at Bramley to see Gallagher make his debut in a pre-season game and there were similar scenes at York for his second appearance.

With Gallagher having cost so much – and created such massive attention – there was no opportunity for him to learn his trade in Leeds’ ‘A’ team.

Instant success was demanded and Gallagher was thrust straight into senior action at the start of the season.

For a while it looked like he would swim rather than sink. The ex-All Black turned in a series of brave displays and when he was a try scorer in a 22-10 defeat by the Australian tourists in October, there were calls for Gallagher to be fast-tracked into the Great Britain Test side.

That didn’t happen, but Gallagher made steady progress until being hurt in a mid-season defeat at St Helens, victim of a spear tackle which went unpunished.

He scored 13 tries in 30 games in his debut season, but his confidence was affected by the incident at Knowsley Road and suffered another setback in the final game of the year.

Leeds were heading for a shock victory in a Premiership semi-final at the Boulevard, but Gallagher dropped Greg Mackey’s last-gasp bomb and Gary Nolan went over for Hull’s winning try.

The following year Doug Laughton took over as coach and signed full-backs Morvin Edwards and Alan Tait, limiting Gallagher’s opportunities.

He played just eight times in 1991-92 – scoring a try and 26 goals – and his appearance tally was similar the following season, when he scored two tries, 18 goals and a drop.

He moved to London Crusaders and had a happier time there before crossing codes back to union when that sport went openly professional in 1995.

Gallagher spent 18 years as a teacher at Colfes’s Preparatory School in the capital. His son Matt is a promising rugby union full-back, having played for England under-16s.

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