The title of the world's most expensive rugby league player is more often associated with eye-catching outside backs, like Mick Sullivan, Ike Southward or, more recently, Martin Offiah; or a prolific try-scorer closer to the heart of the action, such as Ellery Hanley. For a time in the early 1960s, however, the record was held by a grafting forward named Brian Shaw. His transfer from Hunslet to Leeds in January 1961 was valued at £13,250, although the inclusion of two Leeds players travelling in the opposite direction, Bernard Prior and Norman Burton, means it is not included in all lists.
The straight cash record at the time was the £11,002 10s Workington had paid Oldham for Southward at the start of that season, itself just £2 10s more than St Helens had recently paid Wigan for Sullivan. It was 1975 before anyone was transferred for more than Shaw in pure cash terms, the £15,000 Salford paid Featherstone for the Great Britain scrum-half, Steve Nash.
If it seemed a lot of money for Leeds to spend on an essentially unglamorous player, it looked a sound investment four months later. At loose forward Shaw proved to be the final piece in the jigsaw as they finished on top of the league table for the first time.
Better still, the Loiners, as they were known, were destined to win the trophy they really wanted, the Championship, for the first time in 65 years. Leeds beat St Helens to set up a final against Warrington at Odsal. Shaw played a full part in a 25-10 victory and was a key member of a Leeds pack that overwhelmed its opposition. It was a landmark in the club's history.
Shaw was a product of the Hunslet Schools system and had signed as a professional at Hunslet from Old Lane Youth Club in Beeston for £250. He played his early career as a prop, moving in the opposite direction through the pack to that taken by many forwards. It was in the front row that he won his first two Great Britain caps against Australia in 1956, as the Ashes were regained.
He also played, by then as a second-rower, his game characterised by what was described as his "belligerent running and rock-solid defence," in the victorious 1960 World Cup campaign, including scoring a try against the Rest of the World in a post-tournament showpiece at Odsal. His sixth and last cap was won against France in 1961.
At club level, he was part of a Hunslet team – and particularly a Hunslet pack – that was still very much a force in the land. The nearest he came to a major honour with them, however, was a defeat by St Helens in the 1959 Championship final. He played with distinction for Hunslet for nine years, making 331 appearances and scoring an impressive total of 81 tries. He was due for what would have been a lucrative testimonial when Leeds pounced, causing a local sensation at the time.
At Headingley he played on until 1964, making a total of 105 appearances, and was still the world's most expensive player when he retired.
Brian Shaw, rugby league player; born Leeds 1931; married (two sons); died Leeds 13 February 2011.