Adrian Shelford

New Zealand prop
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Adrian Shelford, rugby league player: born Christchurch, New Zealand 4 January 1964; married (one son, one daughter); died Wigan, Lancashire 19 September 2003.

Adrian Shelford was one of the most imposing rugby league prop forwards in the world and the subject of a bitter legal battle between two of Britain's leading clubs. Shelford was already a New Zealand Test front-rower in 1987 when St Helens announced that they had signed him. A few weeks later, Wigan made a similar claim and relations between the two clubs, never easy, were arguably at their lowest ebb.

In December that year, a High Court judge ruled that Shelford had not entered into a binding commitment to play for Saints and he was finally free to begin his Wigan career. One of the best tributes than can be paid to him is that Wigan never had cause to regret that they had fought so hard to secure his services. His arrival coincided with the start of their long domination of the Challenge Cup and he went to Wembley and came away with a winner's medal in each of his three seasons with them.

In 1988, he was one of four Kiwis in the side that beat Halifax 32-12, having escaped suspension two days before the final when he had a sin-binning removed from his disciplinary record. The following year, he was in the line-up that beat his would-be employers, St Helens, 27-0. In 1990, Wigan became the first side to win the game's oldest trophy three years running and Shelford was there again in the front row as Warrington were hammered 36-14. Apart from the captain, Ellery Hanley, he was the only forward to start in all three of those finals.

Shelford was also in the team that won the Lancashire Cup in 1988, scoring a rare try - there were only five of them in his 83 games for the club - in the 22-17 victory over Salford at St Helens, and the Regal Trophy in 1989, beating Widnes 12-6 at Bolton. This was the stage by which Wigan were establishing themselves as completely dominant at domestic level, starting their run of Championship triumphs in 1989-90, with Shelford in their squad.

He was not the most eye- catching of forwards, but was noted for getting the job done with the minimum of fuss. "He was aggressive, but he wasn't a prop who lived on the edge," says Dean Bell, his team-mate with Wigan and New Zealand. "He was a gentle giant off the field. He was very quiet and never had a bad word to say about anybody."

Shelford was a member of a famous New Zealand sporting family. His cousin Wayne captained the All Blacks, one nephew, Kelly, was a rugby league international and another, Angus, an Olympic boxer. He first came to prominence in his native Christchurch, playing for the Hornby club and representing Canterbury and the Junior Kiwis, before moving to Wellington to advance his career with Upper Hutt.

In 1986, he made his début for the full Kiwi side, playing three times - including one embarrassing defeat - against Papua New Guinea. Far more memorable was his first match against Australia, a 13-6 victory in Brisbane in 1987 that is still remembered as one of the Kiwis' finest hours.

The following year, he was outstanding in the New Zealand team that beat Great Britain 12-10 in the mud in his home city of Christchurch and went through to the final of the World Cup. By now, Shelford was New Zealand's senior prop and was picked in a Rest of the World side to play Australia, but the World Cup final in Auckland was an anti-climax, with Australia winning by a comfortable 25-12 in Auckland. He played only once more for his country, on the 1989 tour to Britain.

Shelford played briefly for two Australian clubs, Newcastle, who were also involved in the tussle with Saints and Wigan for his registration, and Manly. In 1990, he joined Wakefield Trinity and played there for two seasons before retiring.

Like many Kiwi players, however, he had put down deep roots in Britain. He continued to live in the Wigan area and trained as a teacher, eventually teaching computer studies at the Deanery School, famous as a nursery for rugby league players. Although not often seen around the professional scene, he worked quietly to help a new generation of players from the school realise their potential.

He had just been appointed as head of information technology at the nearby Kingsdown High School in Pemberton, Wigan, when he collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack. Maurice Lindsay, the Wigan chairman who signed him in 1987, said:

He was a big, strong forward and a wonderful man. On the field, he was ferocious and fearless, but off it he was a quiet, absolute gentleman - a really nice, thoughtful, considerate person.

Dave Hadfield