Dave Chisnall: Powerful, pacey Warrington prop

 

Dave Chisnall was a member of a notable rugby league family and one of the very few players to miss a Wembley final through suspension.

There was almost an unwritten rule that players were not deprived of a Challenge Cup appearance by a ban, but in 1971, Leigh, at the stadium for the first time, were forced to manage without Chisnall, who was serving a four-match sentence. He was to more than make up for it later in his career, but at the time it felt like a cruel and unusual punishment.

To add poignancy, his elder brother Les did play as a substitute on what remains Leigh's only trip to the stadium, whilst the best-known member of the clan, Eric Chisnall, was a winner there with St Helens. A fourth brother, John, was a successful boxer.

Chisnall played his early rugby for Parr Labour Club in his native St Helens, before signing professional for Leigh at the age of 17 and becoming part of the club's resurgence under their player-coach Alex Murphy. He played in their Lancashire Cup sides in 1969 and 1970, getting sent off in the second of those finals, before missing the memorable Wembley victory over Leeds.

When Murphy decamped to Warrington shortly after that triumph, Chisnall was the first player he signed, for a then club record fee of £8000. It was in his two spells at Warrington that he was at his best. He played for England and Great Britain and appeared almost 200 times for the club, scoring a creditable total, for a prop forward, of 29 tries.

But Chisnall, even in his own era, was a long way from being a conventional prop forward. He was only 5ft 9in tall, and played at well over 16 stone – and resembled nothing as much as a burly teddy-boy; but he had an alarming burst of pace for a big man.

He was also unafraid of trying something different. He had audacious ball-handling skills, a dummy which was invariably described as "outrageous" and a sidestep of which many a three-quarter would have been proud. All these qualities came together against Bradford in 1982 for a try which is recalled in the book 100 Warrington Greats.

"Chisnall scored an outrageous try when he twice sold dummies to would-be tacklers on the half-way line before charging clear to touch down at the Railway End."

He won over a dozen medals with The Wire, including captaining the club in the defeat by Widnes at Wembley in 1975, and was always welcomed warmly by the crowd at Wilderspool when he returned there with other clubs. Chisnall played with a smile on his face, was rarely stuck for a word and knew how to raise a laugh in the changing room or in the middle of a tough training session. "Cheeky" and "charismatic" are two of the other adjectives regularly used about him.

Late in 1975, however, he fell out with Murphy and was sold to Swinton for £5000. A nomadic period followed, including a second stint at Leigh, one with his home-town club, St Helens, and one at Barrow, before returning to Wilderspool in 1981.

After three more successful seasons there, he was off on his travels again, winding up his career at Keighley and Mansfield. After that, he coached the reserve sides at St Helens and Leigh, but his only job at first-team level was with lowly Runcorn.

He was an inductee into the Warrington Hall of Fame and, until late in his battle with cancer and Alzheimer's disease, an active member of their Past Players' Association.

Dave Hadfield

David Chisnall, rugby league player: born St Helens 10 April 1948; married Carol (two sons, two daughters); died St Helens 11 January 2013.

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