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Obituary: Roy Powell

A "WHO'S WHO" of rugby league players, published when he was in his prime in 1991, described Roy Powell as a "workaholic runner and tackler with under-estimated ball-playing skills". They could have gone on to say that he was one of the best-liked players of his generation; proof that the old sporting cliche, the gentle giant, really could survive and thrive even in so unforgiving a game.

Powell joined Leeds in 1983, from the St John Fisher junior club in his native Dewsbury, and within a couple of seasons was a regular member of their pack. From the start, his trademarks were his work-rate and his tackling - hard, low and scrupulously fair. If he had a failing, it was that he never seemed particularly to enjoy hurting opponents; he did so, of course, but it was not the object of the exercise. A succession of coaches tried to put a little more "devil" into him, but had to admit, like Peter Fox, who relied on him for Leeds, Bradford and Yorkshire, that it just wasn't in his nature.

He prospered despite that, flowering into an impressive second-row forward in a Leeds team that was almost, but not quite, good enough to win things. With Paul Medley and David Heron, he made up a back row that was a good balance of running, creativity and tackling. Powell was the tackler and there were few better. He was first capped for Great Britain, as a substitute against France, by Maurice Bamford in 1985, but it was under the coaching of Malcolm Reilly that he became a fixture in the Test team.

On the 1988 tour of Australia, he was one of the few British forwards to command respect and he shared in the euphoria of beating the Aussies for the first time in 10 years, when Great Britain defied all expectations to win 26-12 at the Sydney Football Stadium.

In 1990, he was an immensely popular member of the British party that first made a full-scale tour of Papua New Guinea. As a big, black player, Powell was an object of fascination to the local fans, who mobbed him wherever he went. Being regarded as almost an honorary fellow countryman made it a demanding few weeks, but he coped with the attention with his customary cheerfulness. "Physically, he was a Goliath," said Reilly. "I told him to walk about stripped to the waist to intimidate them, but they loved him."

Powell also figured on the New Zealand leg of that tour, as well as the home series against Australia - including the victory at Wembley - later that same year. He made his final Test appearance, again as a substitute, against France in 1991.

A few months later, Peter Fox signed him for Bradford Northern for pounds 80,000, his departure from Leeds causing a storm of protest from their supporters. Fox knew what he would get from Powell and his efforts helped them into the final of the Regal Trophy the following season.

For the third time in that competition, Powell was on the losing side; indeed, the Yorkshire Cup with Leeds in 1988-89 remained his only domestic honour until earlier this year. That was when, following a stint with Featherstone, he helped Batley - without a trophy for over 40 years - to win the inaugural Trans-Pennine Cup. He caused great concern in the final against Oldham when he was unconscious for 20 minutes.

This winter, Powell was on the move again, following his great friend Deryck Fox, with whom he played at St John Fisher, Bradford, Featherstone and Batley, as well as for Great Britain, to Rochdale, where, at the age of 33, he was going to help with the coaching as well as play.

It was whilst walking across a field to start a training session that he collapsed and died, a piece of news that will have ruined Christmases wherever anyone knew Roy Powell, as a player or as a person.

Dave Hadfield

Roy Colin Powell, rugby league player: born Dewsbury, West Yorkshire 30 April 1965; married (one son, one daughter); died Rochdale 27 December 1998.