Jeff Stevenson

Rugby league scrum-half

Sunday 18 September 2011 20:05

Jeffrey Stevenson, rugby league player: born Leeds, Yorkshire 15 May 1932; twice married; died York 13 October 2007.

Jeff Stevenson was a scrum-half of the highest quality for Leeds and other rugby league clubs and the last Great Britain captain to lift the Ashes on home soil. That moment came in 1959, when he led his country in the third Test against Australia at Central Park, where he set up the vital try in a one-point victory for Johnny Whiteley with a break from the scrum-base. Almost half a century later, no other British captain has matched the achievement of leading his side to a home series victory.

By that time, Stevenson was a York player, but most of his career was spent with his home-town club, Leeds. He had played for the club's B team as a teenager, but there were hints that he needed to grow a little bigger before progressing further in the game.

Stevenson disappeared briefly to play football and never did grow any taller than 5ft 5in or heavier than 9st 10lb. During his National Service, however, he contacted the club to tell them that he had been selected at scrum-half for the RAF and invite them to come and watch him if they were still interested. They did send a delegation to watch him play against the Army at Twickenham and in February 1952 he became a Leeds player, making his first-team début that April against Castleford.

Later that year, one of Leeds' great half-back pairings was forged, with the signing of the Welsh rugby union stand-off, Lewis Jones. On his début, in front of 17,000 at Headingley, it was Stevenson who stole the show in a 56-7 victory. He was the perfect foil for the Welshman, guiding him through his transition with his knowledge of the league code.

Despite his size, he was a ferocious tackler as well as an incisive attacker and creative ball-player. The highlight of his Leeds career came in 1957, when his long-range drop goal beat Whitehaven in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Odsal to take his side to Wembley.

In the victory over Barrow, he became the first Leeds player to win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match in the final. The following year, he was again the key player as Leeds won the Yorkshire Cup for the first time in 21 years.

Stevenson's international career had begun in 1955, with the first of 15 consecutive Tests. That first series, against New Zealand, saw him score a 90-yard interception try that was evidence of another of his great assets – his speed off the mark.

There was widespread shock when he left Leeds in 1959, following a disagreement with the board, joining York for a then club record £7,500, having scored 67 tries in his 228 appearances. He finished his career with Hunslet in 1964, guiding the club to the Yorkshire Cup and the Second Division Championship and later running a pub in that area of the city, but it is as one of Leeds' finest half-backs of any era that he will be remembered.

There was a certain symmetry in the way that Stevenson died on the morning of Leeds' victory over St Helens in the Super League Grand Final, which the Rhinos' captain, Kevin Sinfield, dedicated to a man he called "a Leeds legend".

Dave Hadfield

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