This is no ordinary Rugby League history book. Often when one sits down to read history, it can be quite taxing and laborious. But here, author Bryn Woodworth helps the events of the 1914 British tour of Australasia come off the pages and into your imagination.
The brave touring party had not only to deal with a huge injury crisis during the Test series but the outbreak of the Great War while they were thousands of miles from home.
Many Rugby League fans will already be quite familiar with the story which culminates in the deciding game now known as the ‘Rorke’s Drift Test’ and the players’ subsequent perilous journey home to Blighty. But through interesting use of dialogue, authentic to the period, and vivid description, Woodworth has simultaneously created both a novel and a book of record to freshen up the old tales.
Artistic license is also used to bring the characters out of the record books and achieve suspense as the book follows the epic story of Huddersfield’s own Harold Wagstaff, who features on the cover of the book.
Wagstaff, raised in nearby Holmfirth, was signed to Huddersfield from his local club Underbank when he was just a teenager in the early 1900s but by 1914, he was the Lions captain. His skill and pace from his centre position were unparalleled anywhere in the game and had taken him from a young boy, coming up against his first centre opposition in an Underbank training session to leading the Northern Union to success against all the odds in Australia.
After the first two matches in the three-Test series were shared between the Aussies and the touring Northern Union, the decision was made to postpone the decider by six weeks due to the injuries sustained by the tourists.
However, when that decision is overturned, tour manager John Clifford alongside Wagstaff and his teammates, with their backs to the wall, have to fight to avoid humiliation and save the tour and their reputations.
New Zealand follows for Wagstaff and his men before the treacherous journey home through the Suez Canal as war rages around them in August 1914.
As Wagstaff’s story progresses, Woodworth also explores the beginning of professionalism within the southern hemisphere. The famous All Golds of New Zealand, led by Albert Baskerville, and the Aussies inspired by the innovative play of Dally Messenger also come to life in this thrilling read.
The touring party are not just responsible for inspiring generations of British Rugby League stars, but kick starting the southern hemisphere’s love for the greatest game and so any Rugby League fan would be well advised to pick this up and not only learn but live through the momentous events which happened over 100 years ago.
BACKS TO THE WALL by BRYN WOODWORTH is available now for £12.95 plus £2.05 postage and packing (UK) from the TotalRL.com Shop or to order by post, send a cheque or postal order payable to LPL for £15 per copy, with your name and delivery address to: League Express, Wellington House, Briggate, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, HD6 1DN. To order by phone (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm) call 01484 401895