Jim Drake: Tough rugby league prop for Hull and Great Britain
Friday 07 November 2008
Jim Drake was one half of arguably the most famous pair of twins to play rugby league together. Unlike the Beardmores, the Raynes or the Australian Walters twins, there was nothing remotely identical about the Drakes. Bill, the taller, and the younger by 10 minutes, began as a free-striding winger and became a smooth, skilled back-row forward. The shorter, thick-set Jim was something quite different; one of the toughest props in the game at a time when being tough, even distinctly rough, was a prerequisite in the front row.
The Drake twins were born in Workington in 1931, but grew up in York, where they both played for the amateur club at Heworth. For Jim, it was his second choice of sport. He was a promising schoolboy footballer until he injured his knee playing rugby, missed a trial for Yorkshire Boys and turned instead to the 13-a-side game.
He originally signed for Hull as a dashing full-back, but contracted rheumatic fever and piled on weight during a long lay-off. He was told that he would never play again, and when he defied that prognosis and returned, he was better suited to the pack. He got his chance at loose forward when the regular in that role, Johnny Whiteley, was delayed in a traffic jam. He was an immediate success and, stage by stage, he moved forward until he found his natural home at prop.
By the 1956-57 season he was a key member of an outstanding Hull pack. But he had persistent bad lack with injuries, missing a Challenge Cup final, a Championship final and, worst of all, the 1958 Lions tour to Australia. He did play in the 1959 Cup final and appeared for his country against France in 1960, as well as five times for Cumberland in the County Championship.
The respect he commanded in the game is disguised by that modest representative career. Respect and not a little fear, because Drake was renowned as a forward who would do almost anything to get on top of his opposition.
"He was a Jekyll and Hyde character, in that on the field he was nasty," Whiteley recalled. "But off it he was as soft as you could get." As one opponent, the international prop Terry Clawson put it in his autobiography: "I never played in any game with Jim Drake without some sort of set-to... You had to watch him like a hawk." Even he added, however, that, "off the field he was a great bloke."
Drake played for Hull until 1961, racking up 243 appearances and 38 tries and qualifying for a testimonial before moving across the city to Hull Kingston Rovers and playing on until 1965. With Rovers he appeared in three consecutive Challenge Cup semi-final defeats and a loss to Hunslet in the 1962 Yorkshire Cup final. He played a total of 64 games at Hull KR, for whom he became almost as big a hero as he had been at Hull.
Jim Drake, rugby league player: born Workington, Cumberland 20 February 1931; married 1951 Doreen Whisker (one daughter); died Hull 8 October 2008.
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