Ten black players who lit up rugby league

With the last set of Super League fixtures renamed Black History Round, we take a look at some of the black players who have lit up rugby league.

Black players have made a significant contribution to the sport in this country since Lucius Banks became the first black professional rugby league player in 1912.

Super League designated the complete set of Round 17 fixtures as Black History Round as part of a month-long campaign, which also saw the achievements of some of the game’s greats highlighted.

Throughout Black History Month, we too have been celebrating pioneers and trailblazers across Sky Sports platforms.

Sky Sports Rugby League shines a light on some of those who have made their mark in the sport, leaving a lasting impact on the communities they represented.

Billy Boston

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Profile: Billy Boston

Profile: Billy Boston

Regarded as Wigan’s greatest and most popular player, Boston is the second-highest try-scorer in rugby league history behind Brian Bevan.

Cardiff-born Boston appeared in six Wembley finals in nine seasons with Wigan and remains the club’s greatest try-scorer with 478 in 488 appearances.

Called up for the 1954 Great British Lions tour of Australasia aged 19, Boston was the then-youngest Lion and the first black British tourist. He was also part of the 1960 World Cup on home soil with Great Britain, scoring a try in the crucial defeat of Australia.

Boston’s incredible career saw him score 571 tries in 564 career appearances between 1954 and 1970.

Johnny Freeman

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Profile: Johnny Freeman

Profile: Johnny Freeman

Signed from Cardiff rugby union club in 1954, Freeman would go on to become the most prolific try-scorer in Halifax history, reaching 100 tries in 86 matches, before setting a club record 290 tries in 396 games.

With genuine pace, a devastating side-step, a thumping hand-off and swerve, Freeman was impossible to stop once in the clear and he shattered Halifax’s tries-in-a-season record with 48 in 45 games in 1956-57.

One magazine declared him the world’s finest winger in 1958, yet he never received a full international cap, with his only international appearance coming for a Welsh XIII against France in 1963.

Colin Dixon

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Profile: Colin Dixon

Profile: Colin Dixon

One of the game’s great forwards, only five players in history have played more than the 738 career games Dixon amassed for Halifax, Salford and Hull KR between 1961-1981.

A native of Cardiff, who signed for Halifax at 17 in 1961, Dixon began his rugby league career as centre to his idol, Johnny Freeman, before becoming a devastating second-row forward.

Named Halifax Player of the Year in the title-winning 1964-65 season, Salford paid a world record £15,000 transfer fee to sign Dixon in 1968. He featured in over 400 games across 12 years with Salford, playing a starring role in the club’s Division One title successes in the 1973-74 and 1975-76 seasons.

Clive Sullivan

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Profile: Clive Sullivan

Profile: Clive Sullivan

The first black captain of a Great Britain team in any sport, Sullivan played top-class rugby league for 23 seasons, featuring in over 600 games and scoring over 400 tries.

He scored a club-record 250 tries for Hull – including a match record of seven against Doncaster in 1968 – and is the only man to win Challenge Cup medals with Hull KR (1980) and Hull (1982).

Sullivan scored two tries on debut for Great Britain in 1967 and would go on to skipper GB to World Cup success in 1972, scoring an unforgettable 100-metre try in the final against Australia. He also represented Wales 14 times, including during the 1975 World Cup series in Australia.

Des Drummond

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Profile: Des Drummond

Profile: Des Drummond

Jamaica-born Drummond was one of the great all-round wingers of his era, playing almost 600 games and scoring over 250 tries in a 20-year career.

The first man to win the Young Player of the Year twice, in 1981 and 1982, Drummond enjoyed a 10-year career with Leigh and was a regular fixture in the Great Britain team of the 1980s, playing 24 Tests between 1980-88.

Drummond joined Warrington from Leigh for £40,000 in 1987 and amassed 182 appearances in just over five seasons, captaining Warrington their 1991 Regal Trophy triumph. Refusing to retire, his later career took in spells with Bramley, Workington, Chorley, Prescot and Barrow.

Roy Francis

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Profile: Roy Francis

Profile: Roy Francis

A try-scoring winger, Francis played club rugby for Wigan, Barrow, Warrington, Hull FC and Dewsbury Rams – and was the first non-white player to play in a Test for Great Britain, against New Zealand in 1947.

But Francis carved an even bigger reputation for himself in coaching. He was one of the first coaches to use psychology in the preparation of his players having worked in the army assisting the mental rehabilitation of soldiers. He also used video analysis, which was far from prevalent at the time.

Francis won two championships in three consecutive Championship Finals with Hull before becoming Leeds coach in 1963, leading them to glory playing fast, expansive football with a world-class back division. He led them to the Challenge Cup and put together the team that would top the table four years in a row.

Francis also coached in Australia, spending a year with the North Sydney Bears from 1969 to 1970. After returning to England he won a Premiership title with Leeds in 1974-75, before a spell coaching Bradford Northern.

Henderson Gill

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Profile: Henderson Gill

Profile: Henderson Gill

One of the great wingers of the 1980s, Gill shot to fame at Wigan after losing his way as a teenager at Bradford. An instant crowd favourite at Central Park following a £23,000 move from Rochdale in 1981, Gill was instrumental in Wigan’s rise as a trophy-winning force in the 1980s.

Gill, who had an eight-game spell with South Sydney in the summer of 1985, scored 145 tries in 227 games for Wigan and won every honour available.

He went on to represent Great Britain on 15 occasions after a three-try scoring debut in 1981, and featured during the 1988 Lions tour, scoring an unforgettable try – followed by the famous ‘bit-of-a-boogie’ celebration – in the first Lions win against Australia in a decade during the 1988 Sydney Test.

Ellery Hanley

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Profile: Ellery Hanley

Profile: Ellery Hanley

Perhaps the most iconic figure of the modern rugby league era, Hanley is the only player to win the coveted Man of Steel award on three occasions.

Hanley scored 428 tries for Bradford, Wigan and Leeds between 1978 and 1995 and became the first player in 23 years (since Billy Boston) to score 50 tries in a season, for Bradford, in the 1984-85 season.

Wigan signed him in a record £150,000-rated transfer at the end of that campaign. Hanley went on to four successive Wembley Finals with Wigan, becoming the first three-time winning captain.

Hanley joined Leeds for a world-record £250,000 in 1991, amassing 104 tries in 106 appearances for his hometown club, breaking Bob Haigh’s try record for a forward with 41 tries in the 1994-95 season.

Martin Offiah

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Profile: Martin Offiah

Profile: Martin Offiah

Born in Hackney, Offiah joined Widnes from Rosslyn Park Rugby Union club in 1987 and went on to become rugby league’s most prolific try-scoring Englishman with 501 in 477 games.

Offiah was the game’s leading try-scorer in each of his four seasons with Widnes, scoring a total of 181 tries in 145 games for the club, winning back-to-back titles in 1987-88 and 1988-89.

Offiah joined Wigan for a world-record £440,000 transfer fee in 1992, scoring 30 tries in 16 games in his debut season and 186 in 159 games before leaving for London Broncos in 1996.

A two-time World Club Challenge winner, Offiah scored 26 tries in 33 Tests for Great Britain, including a record five against France at Leeds in 1991.

Jason Robinson

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Profile: Jason Robinson

Profile: Jason Robinson

Nicknamed ‘Billy Whizz’ by a school teacher who likened his style to that of Billy Boston, Robinson developed from half-back into arguably the finest winger of the Super League era.

Named Young Player of the Year in 1993 – the season after making his Wigan debut – Robinson went on to score 171 tries in 281 games before a farewell rugby league appearance in Wigan’s 2000 Super League Grand Final loss to St Helens.

One of the elite band of players to win both the Lance Todd Trophy and Harry Sunderland Award, Robinson went on to win the Rugby World Cup in the 15-a-side code, when a try-scorer as England defeated Australia in Sydney in 2003.

Black History Month

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