Obituary: Billy Garratt – The local hero who helped Whitehaven beat the Kangaroos

Billy Garratt was a star stand-off who skippered Whitehaven in one of their best-ever seasons, 1956/57, when they beat the touring Australians and came within one win of Wembley.

He was versatile enough to also operate at scrum-half, in the centres and at loose-forward, whether for his only professional club, for whom he played 234 games (with 42 tries), or his county Cumberland, whom he represented on six occasions.

Garratt, who has died aged 89, won two England Under-21 caps, in a 17-0 defeat by France at Avignon in April 1950 and 23-7 win over the same opponents at Wigan in March 1951.

Given his elusiveness and creativity, tactical nous, tackling ability and effective kicking in open play, it was surprising he didn’t gain even higher-level international recognition.

Having caught the eye playing for local amateur club Kells, Garratt joined Whitehaven as they prepared for the 1950/51 campaign, only their third since being formed. His debut came at home to Oldham.

In 1952/53, he helped his club finish tenth in the 30-strong single division, by far their best campaign up to that point, and figured as they were beaten 15-5 by the Australians in front of a 9,253 crowd in the fourth match of their Ashes tour (Great Britain won the series 2-1).

Four seasons later, by which time Garratt was captain under Australian coach Neville Emery and had formed a potent halfback partnership with Welshman Billy Banks, the touring Kangaroos were defeated 14-11 before 10,840.

This time it was the fifth match of the tour, following a 25-11 win at Barrow and coming before Great Britain’s 2-1 Ashes success.

The 1956/57 campaign, with a side which included fullback John McKeown and second rower Dick Huddart, also featured a memorable Challenge Cup run.

St Helens, Hunslet and Widnes were beaten to seal a semi-final showdown with Leeds at Odsal, where 49,094, roughly double the population of Whitehaven, saw the Yorkshire side edge a 10-9 win before beating Barrow in the final.

In his last season, 1958/59, Garratt was moved to loose-forward, and formed a useful back row with any two from Huddart, Geoff Robinson and John Tembey, before a back injury brought his career to a close.

In his Cumberland debut, a 25-3 defeat by Yorkshire at Craven Park, Hull in 1951, he played scrum-half to Huddersfield’s Russ Pepperell.

His next appearance for the county was at centre, and was followed by three at stand-off and one, a 15-14 win over Yorkshire at Whitehaven in 1956, at loose-forward.

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