Paul Woods: 'Hardest man in rugby league'

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The Independent Online

Paul Woods, rugby league player: born Pontllanfraith, Monmouthshire 28 October 1950; married Angela Moore (one daughter); died Abergavenny, Monmouthshire 1 November 2007.

Paul Woods was one of the roughest, toughest, most notorious rugby players of his generation. Even at a time when there was no shortage of what were known euphemistically as "hard men" in rugby league, he would be many team-mates' and opponents' choice as the hardest.

"He was very tough and very aggressive," recalls Jim Mills, who played with him for Widnes and Wales, and was himself sent off more often than any player of his era. "You wanted him on your side, not against you."

Woods' rugby union career in South Wales took him from his village club at Oakdale, to Tredegar and Pontypool, building his reputation as a back who could not only look after himself but look after most of the opposition pack as well.

Widnes always had an eye out for talent from the Valleys and in 1976 they signed him to come north and play rugby league, using him mainly at full-back and on the wing, although the emergence of Mick Burke meant that Woods was only a substitute in the Lancashire Cup final of 1978.

By then, he had made his dbut for Wales, winning the first of his 10 caps as the most combative of scrum-halves in a memorable 6-2 victory over England, at Headingley in 1977.

The battling performance Mills most vividly remembers was at Swansea the following year, when Woods was up against the famously pugnacious Australian scrum-half, Tommy Raudonikis. Although Wales lost the match 8-3, Woods was generally reckoned to have won the battle within the battle. "Raudonikis was a hard nut," Mills acknowledges, "But he was shouting out to the referee 'Get him off me, get him off me.'"

Kel Coslett, the Welsh team coach, valued those qualities and took Woods to his club side, Rochdale Hornets, but this stay was brief. Hull, just starting to put together the team that would make them the code's pacesetters in the early 80s, signed him and it was there that he played his best club rugby.

He was a success as a full-back and as a sometime goal-kicker, although controversy was never far away. In the 1980, all-Humberside Challenge Cup final at Wembley, for instance, he became the first man to concede a potential "seven-point try" in the showpiece. Woods kicked the Hull Kingston Rovers winger, Steve Hubbard, after he scored, giving him an extra shot at goal from directly in front of the posts.

Mills also recalls him breaking the jaw of Bob Mordell, an English rugby union convert, during a match against Oldham. Others remember the hunger with which he used to pursue Swinton's Danny Wilson, a team-mate for Wales, but an opponent who invariably raised his ire, or the time he ran 80 yards to join in a fight at the far end of the field.

His remaining destinations included the newly-formed club at Cardiff, where his hard-edged rugby league know-how complemented high-profile Welsh rugby union signings like Steve Fenwick, Paul Ringer and Tom David.

His playing career ended at Runcorn, after which he moved back to South Wales and coached his old club in Tredegar. He moved to fill a similar role at Margam, until he was incapacitated by the leukaemia that killed him.

Dave Hadfield