Leeds Rhinos Bygones: Crooks never showed his true colours at Leeds

Lee Crooks.
Lee Crooks.
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THE BEST ball-playing forward of his generation, Lee Crooks appeared for both Leeds and Thursday’s visitors Castleford – with contrasting degrees of success.

Crooks should have been at his peak during his time as a Leeds player, but he never settled and his relatively brief stint at Headingley was the low point of a glittering 17-year playing career.

Born on September 18, 1963, Crooks made his senior debut for hometown club Hull when he was just 17, having already captained Great Britain at Colts and Academy level.

He was 18 when he helped Hull to victory over Widnes at Elland Road in the 1982 Challenge Cup final replay – scoring a try and three goals – and by the time he turned 20 he was a regular in Great Britain’s pack.

Crooks’ assets included size and power, but he was also mobile and skilful, with an excellent kicking game – for goal and in general play.

He proved he could mix it with the best in the world during stints Down Under with Western Suburbs and Balmain and when Hull began to run out of cash Leeds were quick to step in with a record £150,000 transfer fee, in June, 1987.

Crooks signed a 10-year contract and was player of the year in his debut campaign, but he only displayed his massive talent in flashes – most notably the 1988 Yorkshire Cup final win over Castleford at Elland Road.

Leeds United’s home ground was a happy venue for Crooks. One of the most famous moments of his career occurred there in 1986, when his last-gasp penalty goal – Crooks’ third of the game – salvaged a 6-6 draw for Great Britain against New Zealand

In three years as a Leeds player Crooks made just 56 appearances, scoring 11 tries, 29 goals and one drop goal.

Leeds covered their costs when Crooks was sold to Castleford, where he recaptured the sort of form he displayed early in his career with Hull. Featherstone Rovers offered a £170,000 fee for Crooks – £20,000 more than Cas put on the table – but the player had his heart set on a move to Wheldon Road and personal terms could not be agreed.

From 1990-1997, when knee problems forced him to hang up his boots, Crooks made 222 appearances for Cas, scoring 18 tries, 596 goals and one drop goal.

Crooks later had spells as coach at Keighley Cougars and York Wasps, where he made a brief playing comeback and also in charge of the Yorkshire team.

In May this year he was named as the RFL’s England regional performance coach for the north east.

His son Ben is a first team centre at Hull and is regarded as one of the British game’s most exciting young prospects.

2017 Dream Team forward, Grant Millington. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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