Greg Mackey: Commanding Australian rugby league half-back who won major honours with both Warrington and Hull

 

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The Independent Online

Greg Mackey, who has died at the age of 52, was a durable, determined Australian half-back, who played with great success for two English sides. As well as at his Australian clubs, Mackey will be mourned at Warrington and Hull, with both of whom he won major honours in the 1980s and 1990s.

The red-haired general played initially for his local club, South Sydney, and also represented St George-Illawarra and Canterbury Bankstown, as well as the French club, Paris Chatillon, before following the well-trod path for Australian players into the British game in 1989. He was an immediate success during his short first spell with Warrington. Of the nine games he played, they won eight and drew the other, including lifting the Lancashire Cup.

Warrington beat Oldham 24-16 in the final at Knowsley Road, St Helens, with Mackey, known to team-mates and fans as “Bluey”, forming an effective half-back partnership with Robert Turner. Mackey’s form during his first couple of months in England was so impressive that he was offered a lucrative long-term contract at Hull, which he accepted, despite the Wire’s complaint that he had been illegally approached after they had offered him a deal.

He showed the same qualities at The Boulevard as he had at Wilderspool, as a vocal onfield organiser, carrying out the game-plan of the Hull coach, Brian Smith, and as a resilient defender. He was the key man when Hull won the Premiership for the only time in 1991, winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match in a 14-4 victory over Widnes at Old Trafford, setting up two of their tries.

Hull’s historian, Raymond Fletcher, wrote: “Hull’s Australian captain dictated play ... spraying out passes, putting in kicks and constantly probing for openings. It crowned a season of high consistency for the irrepressible half-back who played in all 33 of Hull’s matches and rarely gave less than a top-class performance.”

In 1982, the acrimony over his departure forgotten, he returned to Warrington, playing in the next 98 matches before he missed one. Add that to the 94 without an absence that he had previously played for Hull and his total of 292 consecutive matches is an astonishing one, especially for a slightly-built half-back often at the mercy of hulking opposition forwards.

Off the field Mackey was a gregarious extrovert who lifted morale wherever he played. He had a revitalising effect on Warrington in his second stint with them,  going close to winning the Championship when they finished second to Wigan in 1994, before finishing his English career with a brief spell at Huddersfield in 1996, the first season of Super League.

After that, he returned with his family to Sydney, where he worked in the telecommunications industry. At the end of 2011 he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which finally claimed his life almost three years later. The respect and affection in which he was held was illustrated when Adam Reynolds, the current scrum-half at his first club, South Sydney, presented him with his No 7 shirt just hours before he died.

Greg Mackey, rugby league footballer: born Sydney 20 October 1961; married Amanda (one daughter, two sons); died Sydney 24 September 2014.

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