Duggie Greenall: Great Britain rugby player

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The Independent Online

Douglas Greenall, rugby league player: born St Helens, Lancashire 7 June 1927; married 1948 Vera Campbell (one son); died St Helens 23 December 2007.

Duggie Greenall was one of the best and toughest rugby league centres of his generation for club and country, particularly renowned and even feared for tackling well above his weight.

At barely 12 stone, Greenall was light for the position in his day and would be almost regarded as a pygmy now. But so hard did he hit the opposition that he was once accused by Australia of playing with a plastercast on one arm. It was a charge he always denied and referees' inspections bore him out but it showed the trepidation with which he was viewed.

Douglas Greenall was born in 1927, in the middle of St Helens, Lancashire, where his parents kept a pub. When he was five, however, they moved to a house almost next door to Saints' rugby league ground at Knowsley Road. His mother spotted a commercial opportunity and charged spectators sixpence a time to park their bicycles in the family's back-yard. The Greenalls were solid rugby league stock, related to a number of notable players, and Duggie went to Rivington Road School, one of the town's most productive nurseries for rugby league talent.

In February 1946, he signed for Saints and made his dbut away at Salford that April, playing at stand-off, although he had already been sent off in an A-team trial match. It was primarily as a winger that the club saw him in his formative months there and Greenall was frustrated by not playing in his preferred role.

That began to change with the arrival of Jim Sullivan, a legend at Wigan as player and coach, at St Helens. He quickly identified Greenall as the player who had what he looked for from a centre and christened him "Mr Muscles". It had been 20 years since Saints had won a major trophy, but with Sullivan at the helm and Greenall an integral member of the three-quarter line, they set about changing that.

After losing a Lancashire Cup final to Leigh and a Challenge Cup final to Huddersfield, they broke the long drought by winning three cups in quick succession. Greenall was captain when Saints beat Halifax in the Championship final in 1953-54, and Wigan for the Lancashire Cup the same year.

He was also in the side when St Helens won the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1956 the first time they had ever lifted the game's most famous and historic trophy. Greenall's other major triumph with Saints was the 1959 Championship final victory over Hunslet.

By that time, his wing partner was the South African Tom van Vollenhoven, although his earlier combination with the Welsh winger Steve Llewellyn was equally productive. Both men paid tribute to the way Greenall had looked after them when they arrived in rugby league from union. Vince Karalius, another titan of that era, included him in his World XIII in his autobiography.

In all, Greenall played 484 games and scored 186 tries for his home-town club before brief stints at Wigan which he described as "a spying mission" and Bradford Northern. It is upon his representative career, however, that much of his formidable reputation rests.

Greenall made his Great Britain dbut in the series against New Zealand in 1951. The following year, he shook up Australia so badly with his destructive tackling that, when he was selected to tour there in 1954, his very inclusion was seen as a declaration of hostile intent.

In his biography Duggie Greenall: a rugby league saint (2006), Denis Whittle quotes from the Sydney Sun newspaper almost a decade later, claiming that he "made more enemies Down Under as king of England's rugby league 'bad men' in 1954 than any other sportsman since Harold Larwood on the bodyline cricket tour of 1932."

In fact, injuries and the feeling of being a marked man limited Greenall's impact in Australia and he missed all three Tests. He did figure prominently in the infamous game against New South Wales that was abandoned by the referee because of persistent brawling and later reclaimed his Test place in New Zealand.

Long after his retirement, during which he ran a series of pubs in and around St Helens, Greenall continued to relish his reputation as a hard man. One of his favourite stories was of playing for Lancashire against Australia at Warrington and upsetting them so badly that they chased him to the changing room where, to his alarm, he found the door locked.

He also claimed that there had been occasions when Saints' own fans had booed him for being too rough. It would have been far more in character for the cry to go up: "Give 'em Mammy, Duggie!"

Herein lies an ambiguity that sums up the character of the man. By "Mammy", the majority of those fans would have meant that famous, heavily-bandaged right arm with which Greenall did such damage. But "Mammy" also denoted the Al Jolson standard which the gregarious and ever-convivial Duggie could be persuaded to perform in his fine singing voice at just about any occasion well into his late seventies. So "Give 'em Mammy" was always a request for a party-piece, but, depending on the context, it could be for a sentimental song or a stiff-arm tackle.

Dave Hadfield