On this Armed Forces Day, Club Historian Bill Dalton reflects on some of the famous Rugby League players of the past who have served in the Armed Forces.
Of course, during the years of National Service after the Second World War until 1959-60, there were many players across the Rugby League spectrum, whose career was interrupted by the call up to serve.
When studying the playing records season-by-season, it is easy to spot those who played sporadically over a couple of years or so. Of course, the British had a large presence in Germany among other areas of the world, which meant that players involved weren’t as free to ‘come home’ at weekends in order to play professional Rugby League.
However, despite the embargo on League players performing in Rugby Union, the Services still employed them in Service Rugby Union competitions. The best examples are Alex Murphy (St Helens) and Billy Boston (Wigan).
Hull FC’s own Johnny Whiteley served his National Service in the army soon after the war finished, but in his case, the existence of it was a cause of him NOT signing for Hull as the players at Hull Boy’s Club had a pact that they would not sign professional before their service was concluded.
In the mid-1950s, Cyril Sykes was another who had his career interrupted by serving, through he went on to earn recognition as an Olympic-standard skier.
Arthur Keegan was in the army at the time of signing in 1958, but managed to secure leave to play in the 1959 Wembley Cup Final, in which he kicked Wembley’s 100th goal, although he was later stationed in Germany and missed the 1960 Final.
The most famous of all, though, was Clive Sullivan. Clive was a regular soldier at the time of his signing for Hull. He was eventually released from his contract with the Army and of course, the rest is history.
In more recent times though, perhaps the most famous name to serve in the Armed Forces and represent the Black & Whites is that of Ratu Naulago, the Fijian-born winger who was granted a temporary release from active service with the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment to pursue his opportunity with the Black and Whites in 2019, having previously represented the British Army on the international stage in both the 15-man code, as well as 7s rugby.
Naulago played for the British Army side at Twickenham last season against the Royal Navy, scoring twice to help his side win the Babcock Trophy.