Joe Egan: The last surviving member of rugby league’s ‘Indomitables’

 

The death of Joe Egan at the age of 93 has severed the last surviving link with the most famous of all rugby league tours. In 1946, with the world still in the early stages of recovering from the War, the game's authorities on both sides of the globe were eager for a British Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand to take place as part of a return to normality.

The problem was a lack of transport to get them there. The only ship available was the aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable, so the 1946 Lions embarked on that. The ship's name was later adopted as a badge of their determination to get to the southern hemisphere and play and win there. The party became known as "The Indomitables" and Egan was the last of their number.

On board ship, the players volunteered to stoke the boilers as a way of keeping fit during the long voyage. They had to disembark at Fremantle, because Indomitable was needed to collect freed prisoners of war from Changi Prison in Singapore. That left the Great Britain party to negotiate an arduous five-day journey across Australia on a train with no sleeping accommodation. When the train stopped in the desert the players would get a ball out and loosen up with some training alongside the tracks.

Despite the rigours of their journey, they became the first team, and so far the only one, to come through a three-Test series in Australia unbeaten. Egan, the Wigan hooker, was a key man in his Test debut, an 8-8 draw in Sydney, marshalling the side and dominating possession after the sending-off of Jack Kitching had left them a man short. The tourists then won 14-5 in Brisbane, before going back to Sydney for a 20-7 victory that sealed the series. Egan went on to play 14 times for Great Britain, 21 times for England and 10 times for Lancashire.

It was a career that began when he signed for Wigan as a teenager, from the famous amateur club, Wigan St Patricks. His progress was interrupted by the Second World War, in which as a brass moulder he was in a reserved occupation.

In the years after that he was at the height of his powers, as a player who largely reinvented the role of hooker. For Egan, it was not just a matter of shovelling the ball out of the scrum, highly adept though he was at that aspect of the job. Where he truly stood out was as a distributor of the ball, particularly skilled at selling dummies to the opposition and putting his fellow forwards through gaps he created.

In 1948, he became the first captain to receive the Challenge Cup from a reigning monarch, when George VI presented it after the 8-3 victory over Bradford Northern at Wembley. He described that as the proudest moment of his career. Two years later and after 362 appearances for his home-town club, Egan became the most expensive player in the game when he was transferred to Leigh for a record fee of £5,000, the only time a hooker has held that distinction. He was player-coach there until he retired from playing in 1956, later coaching both Wigan and Widnes to Wembley finals.

He wrote authoritatively about the game for the Daily Express and the Wigan Post and Chronicle and until recent years was a familiar face at Lions' reunions. One of his three sons, Joe Jnr, also played as a professional.

Joseph Egan, rugby league footballer and coach: born Wigan 26 March 1919; married Bessie (deceased; three sons, one daughter); died Wigan 11 November 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager - Franchised Dealership

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative / Forklift Driver

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Through a combination of excell...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Plan Champion

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Service Plan Champi...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific