Memories of rugby league great Mick Sullivan

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One thing I will always remember about international rugby league star Mick Sullivan, who sadly passed away last week, was something he said when we met up at a rugby league event some years ago.

When asked which of the many clubs he’d played for during his career he loved best, quick as a flash he replied, “Shaw Cross”, and from the look on his face, those around him knew he meant it.

Mick Sullivan played with some of the finest clubs in Great Britain, and yet the team he loved most was the amateur club where he learned the game after being spotted by the late Harry V Smith, who soon included him in the various Batley and Dewsbury boys’ representative sides.

At one stage Mick was selected in 1952 to play for England against Wales in a boys’ club international along with his Shaw Cross colleagues David E Smith and Austin Kilroy, who also went on to have notable professional careers.

Although he hailed from Pudsey, Mick decided that Dewsbury was the town for him, and although he played for various clubs throughout the country, it was Dewsbury where he eventually settled and raised a family.

Mick had a wonderful try scoring record, the like of which will probably never be seen again in modern rugby, and after playing for various clubs, including Huddersfield, St Helens and Wigan, he eventually came to be player-coach at Dewsbury and guided them to the Rugby League Cup semi-finals.

He was only 19 when he played for the Great Britain side which won the World Cup in France in 1954, and he received special praise for his performance against Australia.

Although at the time he weighed only 11-and-a-half stone, Mick was directly opposite two opponents weighing almost three stones more.

The courage he showed in that game was to be a hallmark of his performances through a long and distinguished career.

Mick was a familiar figure round Dewsbury until his illness, and one of his outstanding characteristics was that he never boasted about his sporting successes.

He was always down to earth, ready to stop and speak to anyone, and although he didn’t originally come from Dewsbury, he will always be regarded as a ‘Dewsbury Great’ and remembered for his record number of tries for his country.

I am indebted to David Smith, the son of the late Harry V Smith, for the loan of the photograph on this page which has never been shown before.

The image shows the Dewsbury and Batley inter-league under 18s team in the 1951/2 season. Back row, left to right: Harry V Smith, league secretary, P Armstead, J Scott, M Sullivan, unknown, J Briggs, N Waite, league committee man, later chairman. Front row: D Irvin, G Rigg, T Halloran, D E Smith, B Pratt, D Peace.