Rugby League Heroes: Andy Platt

Andy Platt was one of the best British forwards of the 1980s and 1990s, representing St Helens, Wigan and Great Britain with distinction. He won numerous medals and was man of the match when the 1992 Lions hammered Australia in Melbourne.

He later enjoyed stints at Auckland Warriors, Widnes, Salford and Workington, where he was player-coach. He is the brother of Duncan, who played for Widnes, Oldham and Leigh.

After his career ended, he moved with his wife to Australia, where they still reside.

If you could relive one day from your career, which would it be? 

Saints people will hate me even more, but I’ll go for the 27-0 Wembley win in 1989. I’d left Saints the previous summer, and [coach] Alex Murphy really slagged me off, so it was a good feeling. 

Who did you support as a youngster? 

My dad and grandad were from St Helens, so I used to watch them. I remember Cliff Watson and Tony Karalius. The first team I played for was St Helens YMCA. I played union at West Park Grammar School. A couple of the boys played for the YMCA on Sundays, so I went along, and played there up to under-17s. I played one year with Wigan St Pats under-19s. With Joe Lydon and Mike Gregory, we had a hell of a team, and a heap of us signed pro after one year.

What were your early experiences of Saints?

Billy Benyon was the coach. He’s still a good friend. He was old school. I played 27 games in the 1982-83 season, which was way beyond what I expected. Saints had Harry Pinner, Neil Holding, Steve Peters, Chris Arkwright and Peter Gorley, so we were starting to get somewhere. My debut was against Leigh in August 1982. My first start was against the great Kangaroo side that went unbeaten. Saints picked a weakened side because we had the Lancashire Cup Final coming up. The Aussies picked their best team and beat us 32-0. I was devastated, but two weeks later they beat Great Britain 40-4, so we hadn’t done too bad!

Mal Meninga joined Saints for the 1984-85 season, which was something of a breakthrough season for you. What do you remember of him?

He and Phil Veivers were the two pieces of the jigsaw that were missing. We won the Lancashire Cup and the Premiership. Obviously, I’d played against Mal in that tour match in 1982. He was incredible at St Helens. We’d never heard of Phil, but he was very good as well. 

You mainly played in the second row for Saints, but also featured at prop and loose forward. Which did you prefer?

I also played a bit of centre in my first year. As I got bigger and stronger – and slower! – I gradually progressed to the front row. I wasn’t bothered if I wore 10 or 3, I just wanted to play. I had good games in each position and bad. 

Why did Saints come up short against Halifax at Wembley in 1987?

It was the biggest disappointment of my career. We should have won, but we lost sight of what we were going for. Alex Murphy was coach, but he took us down there on the Monday or Tuesday. We went to Royal Ascot, and here, there and everywhere, and there were too many distractions. Halifax strangled us out of the first half. Mark Elia could have won it late on, but we should have had it won by then. It was my first time at Wembley, with nearly 100,000 people there – 70,000 from St Helens – and we felt like we’d let them down. The difference between Saints’ preparation in 1987 and what I experienced in 1989 with Graham Lowe was chalk and cheese. 

You debuted for Great Britain in 1985 against the French. Perhaps your first notable triumph was beating the Kiwis at Elland Road in 1989. How did you feel when Steve Hampson was sent off after two minutes? 

We lost the first Test and then Steve got sent off right at the start of the second. Not the best start! But sometimes it can work with you. We had to tough it out. The sides were very evenly matched. Dean [Bell] was playing for them and many other great players. We went on to win, and then we won the third Test at Wigan. Malcolm [Reilly] was so passionate and instilled something that we hadn’t had before. 

You were so close to the Aussies 1990 and 1992. Do you look back at that era with fondness or frustration?

Melbourne is the best memory. It was a great night. With Ellery and Andy Greg missing, Schoey was the captain, and I was vice-captain. I know I was man of the match, but Garry was magnificent. He had the ball on a string and his kicks bamboozled them. You could say we were unlucky not to win an Ashes or World Cup, but they were too good for us. The World Cup Final hurt the most when Renouf scored in the corner at the end. If Gary Connolly had been on, Steve wouldn’t have scored. There was nothing in the game apart from that. We were also close in 1995 at the end of my international career. I think Australia were really motivated by the Super League War, and they had too much for us in the final.

Back on the club scene, why did you leave Saints for Wigan in 1988? 

I came back from the Lions Tour, and I’d been speaking to Maurice Lindsay and Graham Lowe. Saints still had Alex and after Wembley in 1987, I thought I had to leave in order to progress. It wasn’t nice, and I regret some of that, but Wigan wanted me, and I wanted to go there. It wasn’t amicable. I had to play the game everyone was playing when they wanted a move. I had six of the best years I ever had at Wigan. I rode on the back of a lot of good payers and two good coaches.

How would you compare those coaches, Graham Lowe and John Monie? 

Lowie was more emotive, although maybe not quite as astute as John. He was a great man-manager who got the best out of people. John was ahead of his time, especially in England. He was very savvy and knew what he wanted out of his team. He’d move players on if needed, and he was maybe better tactically than Graham.

You played alongside a galaxy of megastars at Central Park, but can you pick out some of the underrated players.

There were a few, and that was a good thing that both coaches had. They got the best out of players other clubs might not have done. Billy McGinty came from Warrington, where he’d been in and out, but he grew another arm and leg at Wigan. He was great for us. Ged Byrne came from Salford. He wasn’t a regular, but when he came in, he played out of his skin. The team never suffered when they played, and they would often be the best players. 

You and Dean Bell left Wigan nearly a year before Auckland’s 1995 debut, in contrast to Denis Betts and Frano Botica. Why was that and why did you miss the Warriors’ opening match? 

I wasn’t really supposed to go to Auckland. I wanted to stay, but [Wigan chairman] Jack Robinson said he couldn’t match Auckland’s offer, so off I went. I could have done the 1994-95 season at Wigan like Denis and Frano did, but I went early with Dean as we thought it would be better to have a rest from playing and then train the house down. I was flying, as fit as I’d ever been, training with Dean and Tea Ropati. I then went for a routine knee op in November 1994, to sort some floating cartilage, and the fella made a pig’s ear of it. I didn’t know if I’d play again. The Warriors sent me to Sydney for a second opinion, and they got me playing again, but I missed a few games. I had the knee replaced a couple of years ago, and it all went back to that messed-up operation. 

What were the highlights of your time there? 

I enjoyed it, but we were very unlucky in 1995. We missed the play-offs because we lost two points for making one extra substitution when we beat Wests 46-12. The Super League War was a debacle, which ruined the competition in 1996, but I was done and dusted by then. The knee and shoulder were no good, and I was just fighting to get through the year. I played in the 1995 World Cup and after that, the Warriors allowed me to sign a short-term deal with Widnes so I could have Christmas at home.

You came home to newly promoted Salford in 1997, and the team had a great year. What went wrong after that?

Joe Lydon wanted me back at Wigan, but only offered a year. I spoke to Greg and with Salford also signing John Cartwright, I gave it a go, and we had a fantastic first year. We played Saints away in the Premiership and were unlucky not to win. In 1998, we endured the agony of that Challenge Cup semi-final with Sheffield at Headingley, when they scored two late tries. I was off the pitch, but I can’t claim it was down to that! Fair play to Sheffield for what they did at Wembley. 

Did you fall out with Andy?

I didn’t fall out with him, but I thought he lost his way a bit in the second year with some off-field issues. We played six years together at Wigan and we are still friends, but it was disappointing, and he tended to blame others. We’ve apologised to each other, and we’re still friends. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with, and he’s one of the funniest blokes I’ve ever met. 

Your next stop was Workington, where you were player-coach in 1999. Did coaching suit you?

No, it didn’t. I never thought I’d coach, but I gave it a shot. Some are made for coaching. I’m probably not. We didn’t have much money, but we signed a couple of Australians in Evan Cochrane and Mick Jenkins. I told them if a Super League club came in for them, I wouldn’t stand in their way. Sure enough, Jenkins went to Gateshead mid-season, and Cochrane fractured his skull at Keighley. We were having a good season, but without them we lost our way. I knew coaching wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it. I was player-coach, which was hard. I didn’t see a long-term future, and the club understood. Cumbria is a great part of the world. I played in the Good Friday derby, and it was as intense as some of the Saints v Wigan derbies I played in. They hated each other! It’s such a hotbed, and it needs some big investment. 

What took you to Australia and are you in touch with any old rugby friends?

I knew I wasn’t going to be involved in the game, so my partner and I looked long term and decided our future was going to be in Australia. I live in Townsville and play golf with a lot of ex-players. Neil Holding and I played an off-season at Wests in Brisbane in 1985, and I still see some of them. Andy Goodway lives at Tweed Heads, and I see him when I visit my mother-in-law. He’s always at the same coffee shop at the same time because he’s so set in his ways!

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