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When Great Britain won the World Cup

The 1972 team celebrate their victory
The grainy shot shows Clive Sullivan held aloft by Mike Stephenson (right)

By Paul Fletcher & Phil Harlow

When the legendary Bobby Moore wiped his hands on his shorts before collecting the World Cup trophy from the Queen at Wembley in 1966, he provided one of the most enduring images in British sport.

But when Great Britain skipper Clive Sullivan lifted the Rugby League World Cup trophy on 11 November, 1972, there were just 4,231 fans at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon to witness it.

The achievement has gone largely unrecognised in Britain, certainly in comparison to the 1966 triumph or England's 2003 victory in the rugby union World Cup.

Several generations of British rugby league players have tried and failed to repeat the success of Sullivan's side, making their achievement all the more remarkable in retrospect.

On 11 November 1972
Irishman Gilbert O'Sullivan is at number one with 'Clair'
The Americans turn over the Long Bihn base to the South Vietnamese Army
The Dow Jones Index moves above 1,000 points for the first time
Britain had already beaten the Kangaroos 27-21 in a bloody and bruising group encounter in Perpignan, but Australia were widely expected to exact a heavy revenge in the final.

In another bad-tempered affair, the peerless Sullivan illuminated the contest with a dazzling 80-yard try before the Aussies took a 10-5 lead.

Then Dewsbury hooker Mike Stephenson barged over for a Lions try that Terry Clawson held his nerve to convert.

The match finished 10-10 and, after 20 minutes of extra-time failed to yield any further score, Britain became champions by virtue of their previous victory over the Kangaroos.

BBC Sport tracked down the surviving members of the GB team to discover what happened to the last rugby league team from these shores to win the World Cup.

We also persuaded Mike Stephenson, now better known as Sky Sports commentator Stevo, to give his verdict on his former team-mates.


Jim Challinor - coach

A legend in his playing days with Warrington after signing from junior club Orford Tannery in 1952, the winger scored 135 tries in 282 appearances for the Wire before leaving for Barrow in 1963. Challinor made three appearances for Great Britain, including the famous 1958 Test in Brisbane that the Lions won 25-18 despite several key figures - including Challinor - playing in extreme pain after suffering injuries in the early part of the match. Challinor moved into coaching after retiring and led GB to triumph in France. He died of cancer in 1976 aged just 42.


Paul Charlton - full-back (Salford)

Known as the Road Rocket, Charlton was one of the star names in the GB team. Charlton started and finished his career at Workington. In between, he played for Salford, joining them in 1969 in a move that helped to kick-start his international career. Had a spell coaching in his native Cumbria, even turning out for the Barrow reserve side at the age of 50. He eventually settled on the Gold Coast in Australia, where he still works as a joiner and occasionally plays games of touch rugby.

Stevo's verdict:
"He could read a game very well. Paul was a very good defender and solid at defusing a kick. Great positionally, one of the great full-backs of our game."


Clive Sullivan - wing (Hull FC)

This Welsh rugby league legend represented Hull FC and Hull KR with distinction and was the first black player to captain the Lions - or indeed any major national British team. Of slight build, Sullivan had operations on his knees, feet and shoulders during his childhood but was determined to make a career for himself, casting aside rejection by Bradford Northern before signing for Hull. Sullivan scored a length of the field try in the 1972 final and also appeared at the 1968 World Cup for GB and the 1975 tournament for Wales. The main road to the Humber Bridge in Hull is named the Clive Sullivan Way after the player, who died of cancer in 1985 aged just 42. Clive's son Anthony played professionally for Hull KR and St Helens, turning out for Wales in the 1995 World Cup.

Stevo's verdict:
"One of these guys who could drive you on and lift your spirits. He always had this desire not to let the opposition get on top. He was not the type to give you a rollicking, he was very supportive."


Chris Hesketh - centre (Salford)

Hesketh started his career at Wigan in 1962, playing alongside the likes of Billy Boston and Eric Ashton, before moving to Salford in 1967, with whom he remained until retiring in 1979. Hesketh worked his entire life as a salesman before retiring in 2006. He still lives in Lancashire and occasionally goes along to Salford to watch his former team in action.

Stevo's verdict:
"A very, very strong centre. Boy, could he barrel people. The bigger they were, the better he was. One tough hombre."


John Walsh (photo courtesy of Saints Heritage Society)
Walsh was a one-club man as a player (Photo: Saints Heritage Society)
John Walsh - centre (St Helens)

St Helens born and bred, Walsh played his entire career for his home-town club, making his debut in 1968 and retiring prior to his 29th birthday in 1975. At school, Walsh achieved five A Levels and studied at Hull University before returning to St Helens. Walsh now lives in Canada.

Stevo's verdict:
"One of the brainiest blokes I have ever seen pull on a pair of boots. John had a very dry sense of humour. Great upper-body strength and adept at off-loading."


John Atkinson - wing (Leeds)

Renowned as one of the great characters of the game, Atkinson was a try-scoring machine for club and country, scoring 340 times for Leeds. He had to have 17 stitches in a head wound after the final, but managed to bring one of the nurses back with him to the team's celebratory party. Atkinson eventually left Leeds to become player-coach at Carlisle. He also worked as a GPO engineer before switching to the West Yorkshire police force. He reached the rank of Detective Sergeant before retiring from the force. He now works in risk management for the NHS and lives in Harrogate.

Stevo's verdict:
"One of the all-time great finishers. Give him half-an-inch and he would squeeze into the corner, don't worry about that."


John Holmes - stand-off (Leeds)

Another one-club man, Holmes is one of the greats with 625 appearances for Leeds, an all-time club record. He hung up his boots at the age of 38, returning full-time to the printing job he held throughout his playing career. He continues to work part-time as a driver for European Printing in Leeds.

Stevo's verdict:
"An amazing player. Very tall for a stand-off, sleek and with tremendous balance. I always admired the way he could swerve around people."


Steve Nash - scrum-half (Featherstone Rovers)

Nash, who made his debut for Great Britain in 1971, won the Lance Todd trophy for his brilliant performance in the 1973 Challenge Cup final, in which Featherstone defeated Bradford 33-14. Nash, who eventually moved to Salford, played in the 1977 World Cup final, which GB lost 13-12 to Australia. A bricklayer by trade, Nash now lives in Rochdale and retired following quadruple heart bypass surgery three years ago.

Stevo's verdict:
"A tough man. I'll tell you how tough he was, he woke up the day before the final with boils on his backside. He had them lanced a couple of hours before kick-off and played the full game in absolute agony. He could tackle anything and was perpetual motion. He just kept on going."


Terry Clawson - prop (Leeds)

Clawson, who kicked two goals in the final to ensure Britain took the trophy, left Leeds in 1973 to join Oldham. He also played for Bradford, York and Featherstone before ending his playing career and returning to the job as a coal miner, which he had combined with rugby league during his playing days, at the Selby pit in north Yorkshire. A serious eye injury suffered at work forced him to give up mining and he now lives happily retired in Pontefract after publishing his autobiography, All The Wrong Moves, in 2000. His son Martin is the strength and conditioning coach at Bradford Bulls.

Stevo's verdict:
"Mr Laid Back. You could throw a bomb behind him and he would just turn around, pick it up, look at it and discard it. He had a very dry sense of humour. In the face of adversity, with blood everywhere, he would crack a joke."


Mike Stephenson - hooker (Dewsbury)

Stevo left his hometown club of Dewsbury the year after the 1972 victory and started a new life in Australia. He played for Penrith until retiring in 1978 and had a variety of jobs in Sydney. Stevo now lives in London and is a commentator for Sky Sports - and one half of the "Eddie & Stevo" double act alongside Eddie Hemmings. He will be in Australia for the World Cup, commentating on the tournament. Stephenson was the driving force behind the Rugby League Heritage Centre in Huddersfield and last year published his autobiography, Looking Back.


David Jeanes - prop (Leeds)

Jeanes started out in rugby union, before a Wakefield scout offered him a contract to switch codes. He played for Trinity while maintaining his career with a firm of electrical contractors. Now retired, Jeanes is heavily involved with his local union club Baildon.

Stevo's verdict:
"The other prop in the side, David was big, strong and mobile."


Former Great Britain star Phil Lowe
Lowe was a formidable figure in his playing days (Photo: Hull KR)
Phil Lowe - second row (Hull KR)

Lowe was another player to try his luck in Australia, spending three successful seasons with Manly from 1974 and winning the Grand Final in 1976. He returned to his beloved Hull KR the following season and spent the rest of his playing career at Craven park until his retirement in 1983. Within a week, Lowe was coaching York, helping them to promotion and a memorable run to the Challenge Cup semi-finals. He subsequently began a career as a publican, running seven pubs in the Hull area, and also dabbled in property investment, while also taking a role as a director at Rovers. Now retired from the pub trade, Lowe continues with his role on the board.

Stevo's verdict:
"Phil had a magnificent physique. He had a high leg movement and the ability to stride out of a tackle. A giant of a man and a brilliant exponent of a forward running out wide in the centre areas."


Brian Lockwood - second row (Castleford)

Lockwood had two spells at Castleford and also played for Widnes and Hull KR in England and Canterbury Bulldogs and Balmain Tigers in Australia. Lockwood won Challenge Cup medals with three different clubs and was the Lance Todd winner in 1980.

After retiring from the game, Lockwood, who still lives in the Castleford area, owned several pubs with a reputation for good food.

Stevo's verdict:
"A great ball-handler who could find himself in the most difficult positions but then twist and turn and give you the sweetest off-load. It was Brian's inside pass that put me through for the decisive try."


George Nicholls - loose forward (Widnes)

Born in Widnes in May 1945, Nicholls played for both his hometown club and St Helens, who paid 9,000 for his services in 1973. Nicholls, who also played Salford and Cardiff Blue Dragons, enjoyed a distinguished career, winning the Harry Sunderland, Lance Todd and Man of Steel awards. Post-rugby league, Nicholls worked as a scaffolder on power stations. He is now officially retired, but still occasionally drives HGVs in Widnes, where he lives.

Stevo's verdict:
"There was not much to him, but he was a very nuggety player who had a wonderful ability to find a gap, thus attracting a defender, before off-loading the ball."


Bob Irving - replacement (Oldham)

One of the youngest players to play for Great Britain, Irving was relatively small for a second rower but more than made up for his lack of size with a huge work-rate. Signed by Oldham at 16, he was in the first team soon after. After leaving Oldham, Irving, who came off the bench to replace Jeanes in the final, had a successful spell at Wigan before ending his playing career with Blackpool Borough. He went on to study for a degree and became a lecturer in business studies in Blackpool, while also undertaking charity work in his spare time, regularly manning a soup kitchen. He died after a heart attack in 2002, aged 51

Stevo's verdict:
"Another man who skittled players. A compact player and a workaholic on the field, Bob just never stopped. Marvellous."



see also
World Cup 2008 - players to watch
14 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Purdham earns World Cup call-up
07 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Book review: Stevo, Looking Back
11 Oct 07 |  Sport Homepage
Rugby league marks its heritage
30 Aug 05 |  West Yorkshire
Rugby league star Topliss mourned
17 Jun 08 |  Rugby League


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