Rugby League Heroes: Paul Newlove (Part 1)

One of the greatest players of his generation, and one of the most accomplished attacking centres ever, the tries never stopped flowing for Paul Newlove in the jerseys of Featherstone Rovers, Bradford Northern, St Helens, Great Britain and England.

He was twice involved in big-money transfers, the second of which took him to Saints, where he won four Super League titles, three Challenge Cups and the World Club Challenge.

He is the son of John Newlove and the nephew of Charlie Stone, both of whom represented Featherstone and Hull with distinction.

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

I would say the 2001 World Club Challenge at Bolton with St Helens against Brisbane. I stepped Wendell Sailor, made headway and sent Joynty in for a crucial try. We played well that night, all of us.

As a kid, did you understand what a legend your dad was? 

No, not really! I don’t remember my dad playing because I never followed rugby as a kid. I started playing in the under-9s for Travellers Saints, which later became Featherstone Lions. Terry Ramshaw, Vince Farrar, Allan Agar and Charlie Birdsall were the coaches, and they knew my dad. I took to it and enjoyed it, but I didn’t watch rugby on the TV. My dad was still playing, but he used to leave me at my grandma’s on a Sunday afternoon because it was too cold for me. 

What can you tell us about your uncle, Charlie Stone, who passed away in 2018?

He was my mum’s brother. He was obviously a good prop, and they loved him at Hull. They loved my dad there too. When I go there, people tell me what good players they were and how signing them and Vince Farrar from Featherstone kick-started things. I remember him playing because he was younger than my dad. We were all due to go to Spain in 1982, but he couldn’t come with us because of the Challenge Cup Final replay. When people talk about our Charlie, he was a tackler and a grafter. People have always said good things about him.

Why did you sign for Featherstone?

It could have been any team. We spoke to them all. I nearly signed for Hull, who had Brian Smith at the time. He put his case across. It was my dad’s last team as well. When Brian left, I said I’ll sign for them, but dad told me to wait because Featherstone were coming back the next day. Bob Ashby was the money man, and he knew my dad because they played at Ackworth together. Bob offered a bit more money, which turned my head. My dad and uncle Charlie had played there, so I’m glad I signed for them. I signed for five years. Dad said if I hadn’t made it in that time, I was never going to make it, but it all happened quickly.

What did Ashby offer?

A ten-grand signing-on fee when other clubs were offering six. That made a difference. Then there was the contract on top of that. That’s what swayed it. It was a lump sum, too. I eventually passed my test and bought a car. The rest went in the bank. I took advice from Peter Fox, who liked to look after his players. He looked after me, and I’ll never forget Peter.

What stands out from your debut – a Yorkshire Cup match at the Boulevard in September 1988?

It was a night match and we lost. I played on the wing. I got a huge bollocking off Jeff Grayshon. We were in our own 25. I had the ball and got penalised. It was a hell of a bollocking! I just took it. I could hardly say anything. Jeff was a lovely guy, but tough on the pitch. He played well into his 40s, and he was still wanting to rip people’s heads off. He was a hard man!

You did something in your next three matches that you never did again. Do you know what?

Kicking goals. I didn’t mind the ones from touch, because you either kick them or you don’t, but the ones near the posts were the pressure ones. I had one against Halifax on the touchline. Just as I was composing myself, someone shouted some abuse, and I missed it. I told Peter I didn’t want to carry on. Steve Quinn and Graham Steadman took over. I had a big boot on me, so I could manage the distance. I just needed to work on the accuracy. That would have come if I’d stuck at it. 

What do you remember of the Yorkshire Cup semi-final replay against Castleford in 1989 and the defeat in the final to Bradford?

The semi-final was a great game with Wheldon Road packed out. We were underdogs, not given a chance. We ended up winning in the dying seconds. I scored my second try to level it from an up-and-under, and then Mark Knapper kicked the goal off the touchline to win it. The final was disappointing because we didn’t perform. When I go to Bradford ex-players’ dinners, they still show that game, which is a bit awkward for me! 

You became the youngest Great Britain player when you came on against the 1989 Kiwis in the first Test two months after you turned 18.

It was at Old Trafford. There wasn’t much time left and Andy Currier got injured. Malcolm said, “Warm up, you’re going on.” Blimey, I thought. It made me the youngest-ever GB player, and it earned me a payment from Featherstone. I chased a kick and nearly got to it before their fullback, and I tackled him over the line. They dropped out and the hooter went. I started the second game, which I was shocked about, and we won the series. Andy Goodway was a great player, really tough. He was a nice bloke too. 

Why did you stay with Featherstone when they were relegated in 1992?

I decided to stay because that saw my contract out. Also, I thought we’d come straight back up, and we did. I scored over 50 tries, which Shaun Edwards complained about because I was doing it against easier teams than him! I ended up getting a nice cheque for being the game’s top try scorer. We got to the Premiership Final against Workington at Old Trafford and I scored twice in a close game. 

What do you remember of the 1992 Lions Tour?

It must have been one of the longest tours and I was ready to come home by the end! I played on the right wing in the first Test in Australia. Then I had two at left centre, then Malcolm dropped me in New Zealand. Someone got injured the night before the second Test against the Kiwis. I’d gone out drinking. Someone had to come and find me. I ended up coming in and was told to sober up pretty quickly!

Did you ever have an offer from an Australian club? 

Western Suburbs wanted to sign me when I was at Featherstone. I was only 18 and I didn’t want to go, but they put it in the Australian papers that they’d already signed me. I asked Foxy to tell them I wasn’t coming. Then they put another story out saying, “Paul Newlove is scared of flying!” Everyone used to take the piss. There were rumours of Manly too, and Malcolm Reilly wanted to take me to Newcastle. He came to my house to talk to me, but I wouldn’t go to Australia. 

Featherstone put you on the transfer list for £1 million. Why did you move to Bradford in the summer of 1993?

I told Featherstone if they valued me at £1 million, to give me wages that reflected that! I liked Featherstone, but they weren’t the club if I wanted to improve. I then accepted a deal to sign for Wigan, but they obviously wanted Gary Connolly before they wanted me. They kept saying hold on, but they were waiting for Gary, and they eventually got him.  Peter Fox had gone to Bradford, and told them to go to a tribunal, so the RFL would set the price, which ended up at £245,000. 

What happened when you withdrew from the Great Britain Sevens squad in 1994? 

I was unhappy with how I was treated over that, so I retired from internationals, but it was a pretty brief retirement! I got picked to play in the World Sevens in Sydney. I said I wasn’t going all that way to play Sevens. Sevens wasn’t my bag anyway. At the time, we were moving house. I had lots going on, and they wanted me to go all that way to play in one tournament that lasted a weekend. I said no. I had phone calls from the RFL and from the Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly. Malcolm said if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t get picked again for Great Britain, and I said fair enough. He told me I was making a big mistake. He didn’t even go anyway – John Kear went as coach! Peter Fox got involved. I said I was finishing with international rugby, and I announced it. Then they rang me up again a month later, wanting me back for a game with France, and I said okay.

How frustrating was it to lose out on the title on points difference to Wigan in 1994?

It was a nightmare. It still annoys me because we lost to the bottom side, Leigh, at home towards the end of the season. We lost a couple more games after that too. If we’d won one of those, we’d have pipped Wigan to the title. I’d have loved to win that Championship with Peter and with players like Deryck, Karl Fairbank and Jon Hamer.

You scored in every match you played in the 1995 World Cup. Why did we fall short in the final?

I scored from a play-the-ball on the line. Brett Dallas was the dummy-half and I just flopped over. It wasn’t a classic try! They were a weakened side with the Super League War. We beat them at Wembley in the opening game and maybe we were a bit too confident after that. 

Why did you decide to leave Bradford? 

They got rid of Peter Fox and I didn’t like the way they did it. I only went there in the first place because of him. I wouldn’t have joined Bradford otherwise. Peter put the word out. He got in touch with Eric Ashton. We had a meeting with St Helens, and they struck a deal. I was asked to turn up in a Securicor van when my signing was announced! I think Bradford had to sell me because they got big money and three new players [St Helens paid £250,000 and gave Bradford Paul Loughlin, Sonny Nickle and Bernard Dwyer]. That deal kickstarted the Bulls becoming a force, and they went on to win leagues and cups.

*In part two next week, Newlove discusses playing for Ellery Hanley and Ian Millward at Saints, an unhappy stint at Castleford, and how he never felt entirely happy in camp with Great Britain.