Back in 1908 Leigh RFC was one of the teams chosen to play the touring Australians.
To qualify for this honour Leigh had to guarantee the tourists £50 or 70% of the gate whichever was the greater.
8,000 turned up on Wednesday October 24 to see Leigh gain an unexpected win as Leigh were only a mediocre team at the time, the seasons record was p34 w13 d1 l20.
The Australians were winning 11-6 when Bennet the Leigh centre charged down a kick and made it 11-9.
With only 10 minutes of the game remaining Bennet kicked ahead and Smith the Leigh winger beat Bolewski the Aussie full-back (later to become a Leigh player) to the ball and score a successful kick by full-back Ellis Clarkson and Leigh were 14-11 in front, which left the large crowd cheering wildly and no doubt were late in getting home from the pubs that night.
From a report of the day, “the Australian tourists met at the Railway Hotel and proceeded to the Mather Lane ground by wagonette, after the game they were entertained to High Tea at the White Horse Hotel Railway Road”.
The tour itself was a financial disaster for the Aussies, playing 45 games from October 3 to March 8, winning 17, drawing six and losing 22, poor weather, a cotton strike in Lancashire kept the crowds down and three games per week and the travelling also took its toll.
The Leigh team that day had some interesting players, and here’s a sort of pen picture for each of them in the order they are on the picture (players only).
Back row, from left, Bob Neville signed from Bickershaw Hornets 1902-14, 238 games 88 tries as a winger.
Aaron Lee born Ohio USA of English parents and returned to live in Westleigh signed from Westleigh Recs 1903-13 264 games as hooker, he then moved on to play for Huddersfield until returning to Illinois in 1919.
Billy Winstanley, forward, signed from Platt Bridge All Blacks, 171 games, was Leigh’s first tourist 1910, also played for England Lancs and toured with the Northern Union.
Dick Gallop, forward, signed from Cadishead 160 games.
Ellis Clarkson full back 214 games 1905-10 and 1913-19 in between he went to Hull FC also represented England and Lancs.
Billy Smith, 111 games 46 tries, winger and professional sprinter, 1902 -10 signed from Thurscoe Rovers Barnsley still he played for Lancs. Herbert Bennet, 206 games, centre, 1901 -10 signed from Pendlebury.
Paddy O’Neil 1903 -11, forward, 211 games, signed from Leigh Rangers, Paddy was one of the Leigh players who lost his life in WW1, his son Stanley became mascot for the 1921 Challenge Cup-winning side and a great friend to Leigh legend Tommy Sale in later life, when Tommy was junior scoreboard assistant to him.
Herbert Woods, 1906-13, forward, 173 games, signed from Leigh Rangers who played at Dakins Lea over Butts Bridge, I mention this as it is a stone’s throw from where arguably Leigh’s greatest player was born John Woods.
The connection being Herbert was John’s grandfather but did not have the scoring power of his grandson, as he scored only 1 try in his Leigh career.
Front, from left, Sam Johnson 1909-14 winger signed from Runcorn, 392 games 91tries and 76 goals.
Sam Whittaker half-back signed from Salford St Barts 193 games.
Bob Bate half-back, 1908-10, 16 games, signed from Pemberton.
Tom Johnson centre signed from Runcorn 1905-15 238 games.
Leigh had now beaten all three touring sides over the last three years and some players had been involved in all three wins.
n Above is the victorious Leigh team before the game and the Australian side during the tour, the Kangaroo mascot unfortunately did not make it due the terrible weather conditions.