Rugby league record-breaker
Monday 15 January 2007
James Lewthwaite, rugby league player: born Cleator Moor, Cumberland 10 November 1920; married (one son, one daughter); died Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria 23 December 2006.
The rugby league player Jim Lewthwaite was a record-breaking try-scorer for Barrow who played in all three of their Wembley finals in the 1950s and was one of only three survivors of the most famous of all Great Britain tours to Australia.
Lewthwaite was a great winger who had the misfortune to play in an era when there was an embarrassment of players who justified that description. Thus it was that he never won a full Great Britain cap, despite finishing as leading scorer with 25 tries in 15 matches on the 1946 tour, for which the party travelled to Australia on the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable.
That included seven tries in a 94-0 victory in a match at Mackay, north Queensland, a Great Britain record equalled by two other players on subsequent tours. Despite that, Lewthwaite could not force his way into the Test team, with various combinations of Eric Batten, Arthur Bassett and Albert Johnson being preferred.
He won just one cap for England, scoring a try in the 31-12 defeat by Other Nationalities at Huddersfield in 1952, but it was a different story for club and county. He was capped 20 times by Cumberland between 1945 and 1956 and was a fixture on the wing for Barrow for even longer.
Lewthwaite was a late developer in rugby league. As a young man working as a plumber in the Barrow shipyards, he concentrated on football and was a prolific goal-scorer for a local amateur team named Crystal Palace. In 1943, he returned to the game he had played in his youth on the West Cumberland coast, signed for the then star-studded Barrow club and made an immediate impact.
As a rangy six-footer, Lewthwaite quickly proved to be a difficult winger to stop, as shown by his club record 352 tries over the next 14 years, but he was also regarded as ultra-reliable in defence, as well as a consummate sportsman, often referred to as "Gentleman Jim". Unlike many wingers, he became more effective as time went on. His club record of 50 tries in the 1956-57 season - his last as a player - was set after his 36th birthday.
His career highlights were undoubtedly Barrow's three Challenge Cup final appearances in a six-year purple patch, starting with the 10-0 defeat by Wigan in 1951. In 1955, he was again on the right wing for the proudest day in Barrow's history - the 21-12 victory over Workington Town to claim the trophy for the first time. Two years later, Leeds denied him the perfect finale to his career by beating Barrow 9-7.
It was only after the return home from that match that Lewthwaite told the crowds gathered under the balcony of Barrow Town Hall that it had been his last and that he was retiring. It was reported that there were anguished cries of "No, no" from supporters who hoped in vain that he might be persuaded to carry on. Depending on the method of counting, that Wembley appearance was his 499th or 500th for the club. Either way, it is another record that survives to this day.
After his retirement as a player, Lewthwaite worked as an inspector for the Furness Water Board.
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