THE DEATH of Roger Millward MBE earlier this week – at the age of 68 – was sad news for anyone with even a passing interest in rugby league.
Though he made his name at Hull KR, Millward was from Castleford and is regarded as one of the finest players – if not the best – the town has ever produced.
Described by Hull legend Johnny Whiteley as ‘the greatest player I’ve seen since the war and a complete footballer’, Millward signed for Castleford in 1964 and, in any other era, would have gone on to have a long career with his hometown club.
But at the time, Castleford had two other relatively young half-backs in Alan Hardisty and Keith Hepworth, both 25, and they blocked Millward’s path to a regular place in the 13.
In 1966 Castleford accepted a fee of £6,000 from Hull KR for the 18-year-old and the rest is history. Millward, known as The Dodger, spent 25 years with the Robins and was a key figure during their greatest era when, along with Hull FC, they dominated British rugby league.
One of the sport’s iconic images from the 20th century is Millward, hoisted aloft by his team-mates, holding the Challenge Cup after Hull KR’s 10-5 Wembley victory over their city neighbours.
Millward, then player-coach, played the full 80 and kicked a drop goal, despite having his jaw broken for the third time that season.
He retired following a reserves game against Batley later that year, when he suffered the same injury. After playing, Millward coached Hull KR until 1991 and later had brief spells in charge of Halifax and York.
At international level, he was a Great Britain captain and a Lions tourist three times. He gained 29 caps and scored a try and three goals in the third Test against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on July 4, 1970.
That was the last time Great Britain won the Ashes and Millward’s exploits in Great Britain colours, as well as for Hull KR, made him famous both in this country and on the other side of the world.
It’s ironic that Millward died in the same week as international rugby league.
When Australia play New Zealand in tomorrow’s Anzac Test, their side will include winger Semi Radrada.
If the name sounds familiar, that may be from the 2013 World Cup, when he played for Fiji. He scored a try in a defeat by England at Hull’s KR Stadium.
Radrada moved to Australia in 2012 to play for Parramatta Eels and therefore qualifies for the Kangaroos on residency grounds. That, of course, doesn’t mean the coach has to select him, or he must make himself available. Mal Meninga, the new Australia team boss, stuck a knife into the international game when he opted to call up Radrada.
Unlike some nations, Fiji for example, the Aussies do not have to select from a limited player pool. They have most of the world’s top talent at their disposal, but sadly those in charge of the game in Australia don’t care about the sport on a global level, especially now they are no longer top dogs.
Hull play an important match on Sunday, when they visit St Helens in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. It is a competition they have a chance of winning, if they have a full squad to choose from. They will be without Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu for the tie at Langtree Park after allowing the duo to play for Samoa and Tonga respectively in Saturday’s Test at Parramatta.
Hull coach Lee Radford said: “It’s important for the growth of the international game that they’re both turning out for Samoa and Tonga and great recognition for the club that we have two international captains.”
On the other side of the world, Wayne Bennett, coach of Brisbane Broncos and England, has refused to allow one of his club’s stars, Anthony Milford, to play for Samoa this weekend. There may be a good reason for that and Bennett, normally an advocate of international rugby league, might be protecting his player, but it is a depressing precedent and could rebound later in the year when the Brisbane boss selects his first England team.