RUGBY LEAGUE was in mourning 15 years ago.
Two days after Christmas, in 1998, Roy Powell was helping take a training session at his latest club, Rochdale Hornets, when he suffered a massive heart attack.
The 33-year-old former Leeds and Great Britain forward was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital, sending the sport into shock.
His funeral, which took place on January 12, 1999, reduced many hardened players – past and present – to tears.
So many mourners turned up to pay their respects the church was completely full and hundreds stood out in the snow to listen to the service through loudspeakers.
Powell – who began his career at Leeds, moved to Bradford and also had spells and Featherstone and Batley – was liked and admired throughout the game.
Initially a second-rower – before switching to prop later in his career – he was born in Dewsbury and played his junior rugby with the St John Fisher club before joining Leeds in 1983.
As a player his trademarks were his non-stop work-rate and copybook tackling technique.
Though he lacked the nasty streak which characterised many of the game’s top forwards, Powell was certainly among them when it came to ability, as his tally of 19 Great Britain caps illustrates.
His finest hour came in 1988 when he was a member of the Great Britain side which pulled off a shock third Test victory in Sydney, the first time the Lions had defeated Australia in a decade. Powell played for Leeds at a time when the club’s fortunes were at a low ebb, and which could have been even lower but for his work in the pack allied with Garry Schofield’s attacking prowess.
He was a member of Leeds’ 1988 Yorkshire Cup final winning side and played in the John Player Special final against St Helens the previous year.
Powell was a strong contender for man of the match in that game, but had to settle for a runners-up medal as Leeds were beaten 15-14.
His only other silverware was won as a Batley player in 1999, when he helped defeat Oldham in a Trans-Pennine Cup final.
Fears about his health were raised that day when he collapsed on the field.
As well as a fine player, Powell was known as one of the nicest men in the game and his transfer from Leeds to Bradford – for a £80,000 fee in 1992 – left many of the Headingley faithful distraught.
Peter Fox coached him at both clubs and spoke movingly at Powell’s funeral.
Assessing him as a player and a person, Fox said: “He was a smashing lad who would do anything for anybody. He was a fantastic worker, but he could also release the ball.
“He never lost his temper. If he had a fraction of my aggression he’d have been a world beater, but it just wasn’t in him.”