Five of rugby league’s greatest ever players will be featured in a statue outside Wembley stadium it has been revealed by the Rugby Football League.
The announcement was made last year that rugby league would become the second sport to be recognised at the national stadium, following the statue of England’s 1966 football World Cup winning captain Sir Bobbie Moore. A shortlist – following a public vote and selections from a panel, MPs and sports journalists – was comprised of 5 players as candidates to be featured in the statue; Billy Boston MBE, Eric Ashton MBE, Alex Murphy OBE, Gus Risman, Martin Offiah MBE along with an option for a group presentation.
The RFL Board of Directors made the final decision for a group presentation featuring all five players as the most appropriate way to encapture the spirit of rugby league with the artistic impression set to be unveiled during the World Cup next year ahead of the semi-final double-header set to be staged at Wembley Stadium in November 2013.
Rugby league has become synonymous with the national stadium since its first staging of the sport’s flagship event – the Challenge Cup final – in 1929. Wembley has remained the traditional home of the Challenge Cup ever since and has staged many major international rugby league events, including Ashes Test Matches and World Cup finals.
And the legends who will be featured in the statue have strong links with the local region, with the St Helens and Wigan clubs both enjoying prominent representation.
- St Helens-born Alex Murphy OBE, considered by many who saw him as the greatest player ever, signed for his hometown club aged 16 in 1955. During his career he became the first man to captain three separate clubs to success in the Challenge Cup final, earned 27 caps for Great Britain and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame at both St Helens RLFC and Warrington Wolves as well as the British Rugby League Hall of Fame.
- William ‘Billy’ Boston, born in Cardiff in 1934, signed for Wigan in 1953. He played in 6 Challenge Cup finals, winning 3 and was a prolific try scoring winger who made 31 appearances for Great Britain. A member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame he scored 478 tries in 485 games for Wigan before finishing his rugby league career at Blackpool Borough.
- Eric Ashton MBE – another St Helens-born player to be featured – played his entire playing career at Wigan before coaching and becoming chairman at his hometown club. He became the first man to win the Challenge Cup as a captain, coach and chairman, made 26 Great Britain caps. In addition to 3 Challenge Cup successes his playing career included Ashes and World Cup success and was the first rugby league player to be awarded by the Queen – becoming an MBE in 1966.
- Martin ‘Chariots’ Offiah, born in London in 1966, already has a bar named after him at the national stadium in recognition of his memorable try in the 1994 Challenge Cup final against for Wigan against Leeds. He won 4 Challenge Cups in his career and played 33 times for Great Britain.
- Gus Risman was involved in the sport for 27 years and is second on the all-time appearances list with 873. He led Workington Town to Challenge Cup victory in 1952, becoming the oldest man to win the Cup as aplayer at 41. His career, which involved playing for Salford, Workington and Batley also sees him third on the all-time points scoring charts with 4,052 and fifth in terms of goalkicking with 1,678
The RFL is in discussions with celebrated artists and sculptors and a commission will be made in the weeks ahead. Nigel Wood of the RFL said:
“The RFL Board’s view echoed that of the many thousands of people who were involved in the selection process in that the statue needed to be a group representation,” said Wood. “So many players have contributed to the rich history of the sport and its association with Wembley and the Board were keen that that should be reflected in the statue.
“Having Risman, Boston, Ashton, Murphy and Offiah all part of the statue means that every generation of the sport is celebrated.
“We will continue the theme of representing the whole sport and its achievements by using the plinth on which the statue will stand as creatively as possible.”