Profile: Mastery and mystery: Ian Ridley assesses a peerless performer who protects his privacy behind a prickly persona: Ellery Hanley

A TWEAKED hamstring makes Ellery Hanley doubtful for the Rugby League Cup final on Saturday, apparently. You sense, though, that it will probably take something a little more serious, something more like an an amputation, to keep him off the Wembley pitch.

At 33 the day after he captained Leeds to a semi-final win over St Helens with a virtuoso, two-try and two-fingered-to-his- critics display last month, Hanley is no longer the Mr Indestructible of his Eighties halcyon days with Wigan when he led the British game from a beer-bellied amusement to chiselled conqueror of the athletic Australians, an achievement which brought him a rare accolade for the game, an OBE.

But pride burns fiercely on to accompany a still considerable talent and one more meeting against his former club on the biggest stage, for this biggest of players, should motivate that miscreant right leg to obey and heal.

To embark on an assessment of Hanley, man, player and legend, is to be offered three varyingly helpful comments from those who have known him: 'Be careful', 'Good luck' and 'You're brave'. It is to encounter polite refusals to talk and unreturned phone calls. A request for an interview was declined on his behalf by his business manager, who also felt unable to offer any insight, and an enquiry to the home of the former Wigan coach John Monie, in Australia, met with a similar response.

Hanley's distaste for journalists is well known and has sometimes driven the League's image-

conscious officials to distraction. Even the programme editor at Wigan once had trouble in getting him to fill in a routine questionnaire. One he did complete, in 1985, said under 'likes': 'Genuine people. Proving people wrong, especially journalists. I like it when people put me down and I am able to make them eat their words.'

It stems from references to his youth and brushes with the law; from publicity about a paternity suit five years ago when tabloid photographers besieged his house; from reporting of such incidents as accepting a television commentator's contract in Australia - he was soon released as viewers were unable to understand his Yorkshire accent - when injured on tour with Great Britain and, on another occasion, allegedly leaving the British team hotel without permission.

All have contributed to a picture of a dark, brooding persona; certainly to a misunderstood figure. Yet those within the game who will talk about him refer, beyond an extraordinary ability on the field, to a charm, generosity and sense of fun off it.

'He is an incredible human being,' says Maurice Lindsay, the former Wigan chairman, now the league's chief executive. 'It is a shame that nobody can really get close to him. He has a tremendous thirst for knowledge and will talk to any expert in any walk of life to try and learn. He has a natural charisma that appeals to children, old people and to the ladies.'

'He's just a special sort of individual,' Doug Laughton, the Leeds coach, says. 'He's a little scamp, always up to things.' Indeed to stand opposite him momentarily in a corridor at Headingley last week was to perceive a brightness and openness in his eyes at odds with some accounts, his menacing current shaved-head appearance notwithstanding.

Ellery Hanley was born in Leeds of immigrant parents from St Kitts who have since returned to the Caribbean. In his adolescence, football was his game, Pele, Cruyff and Keegan his heroes. 'They were my men,' he once said. 'I could not have cared less about rugby league. But at school if it wasn't one game then it had to be another and if you couldn't get into the soccer team the alternative to playing rugby was a slipper across the backside.'

He signed professional for Bradford, for pounds 2,000, from the amateur club Corpus Christi, in 1978 and the Northern hooker Brian Noble, who signed the same night, recalled: 'Growing up with him at the club soon made me realise the extent of his determination. I remember Ellery saying he would make more out of rugby league than anyone but there was more to it than just money. He had tremendous drive and nobody has worked harder to improve.'

After an astonishing season in 1984-85 when he scored 55 tries - the first player since Billy Boston for Wigan in 1962 to break the half-century - Wigan paid pounds 85,000 for him and converted him from centre or stand-off to loose forward. In the next six years, a litany of trophies was sung: three Championships, four Challenge Cups, four Regal Trophies, one Premiership and a World Club Challenge victory.

Maurice Lindsay's most telling memory is of a match at Bradford in 1990, the third of four matches in six days as Wigan chased another Championship. 'We were losing 18-2 at half-time and everyone was down, even John Monie I think. Ellery was in great pain with an injury but just carried the side on his back to an 18-all draw.'

When Hanley turned 30, even Wigan, it seemed, doubted how much longer he could perform with such intensity. He wanted a three-year contract while the club were offering one of two years. 'I crossed swords with him many times,' Lindsay says, 'mainly when it came to contracts. He is a very competitive human being and was no different when it came to business and negotiating contracts. Once he had signed, though, there were no grudges; he gave you everything.'

Leeds were willing to pay a pounds 250,000 fee and a salary of pounds 125,000 for each of three years. It was an unhappy first year, however, during which his jaw was broken in a match at Hull, an incident which has led to his instigating recently, two and a half years on, legal action against the Hull player Andy Dannatt.

Last season was more the Hanley of folklore, when he played 31 games. This year in girding the 'Loiners', it has been 27, with 25 tries, the brace against St Helens the most crucial, as both times he breathtakingly broke free to score after Leeds had been under pressure for much of the game.

The chain linking it all has been a remarkable international career, which before this season's announcement of retirement, brought him 36 caps and 20 tries. Great Britain won 13 of 19 Tests under his inspirational captaincy, notably two over Australia, in Sydney in 1988 and at Wembley, 1990, when he was man of the match.

'Knowing about him and doing something about him are different things,' said Steve Roach, the Australian forward who played with him at the time for Balmain - Hanley also was reputed to have earned up to pounds 6,000 a game for Western Suburbs in Sydney.

'He is without doubt the best player in the world. Not the best footballer I've ever come across but balance and timing make him exceptional . . . Have you noticed the way he hands people off? Most players do that with their arm outstretched and you can knock it down and get at them. Not Ellery. He waits until the very last moment and jabs you off. I've never seen anybody else do that.'

Respect for the player's player is absolute among colleagues, even if affection may not always have been. It is not of course a requirement in team dynamics to like team-mates, only to acknowledge each other's prowess. Lindsay speaks of the silenced awe of young players in his presence.

Garry Schofield, his Leeds and Great Britain colleague who was, in the language of sport, privately disappointed to lose the captaincy when Hanley arrived at Headingley, says: 'Backing up, defence, stamina, Ellery Hanley can do it all. In my opinion he retired from international football too early; he still has plenty to offer.'

And the character of the teetotal, non-smoking fitness fanatic who is said to enjoy squash and badminton? 'I'm not going to talk about that. I know Ellery Hanley as a rugby league player.'

Hanley himself has said: 'I'm cold and calculating about rugby league. It's my whole life really. I'm always thinking about it, or watching other games or studying videos, learning things, picking up points . . . I have a good concentration level. People think that you just go to the ground, put your boots on and do something spectacular. That doesn't happen. I might spend hours preparing for the opposition, thinking about my role.'

At Leeds that is player-coach, and he took over the team for a match at Salford when Doug Laughton had flu. 'He knows the game inside out,' Laughton says. 'He will definitely make a coach.' The problem will be, he acknowledges, in Hanley's refusal hitherto to deal with the media, particularly the local outlets who are the conduit of the coach's thinking to fans eager to hear their club's viewpoint. Such considerations are likely to figure in Hanley's negotiations over a new contract to follow the one about to expire.

For now, it ultimately matters little that Hanley is withdrawn publicly and it may even have enhanced his legend. Thankfully, it is still less how you speak about the game than how you play it. Hanley may not talk up at Wembley, but expect him to play up.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition