REVIEW: Off The Cuff: The Lee Briers Autobiography, by Lee Briers and Mike Appleton

Off The Cuff by Lee BriersHe has been one of the defining faces of Super League over the last 15 years, but Lee Briers will not be lacing his boots in 2014.

His retirement due to injury has robbed rugby league fans of at least 12 more months watching one of his generation’s most naturally gifted players, but Off The Cuff, Briers’ autobiography, gives us all one last chance to relive some of the highs and lows of a career that has always been anything but dull.

Briers teamed with ghostwriter Mike Appleton to produce his entertaining reflection on a distinguished career that included three Wembley wins and a Lance Todd trophy.

“Since I started in 1997 I reckon it (rugby league) has evolved three or four times. I’m not here to blow my own trumpet but I have had to reinvent myself at least twice… The game has changed massively and you only have to see the athletes on the field today, and like you I’m stood in awe of some of the people I play with and against. I really do think the game can go from strength to strength, but we need someone with imagination to take it forward.”

It is not just fans and pundits who rated Briers’ skills. He might have been overlooked by Great Britain coaches for the best part of a decade, but take this verdict from Andrew Johns as credible proof of his ability:

“I don’t know why he never played more games at the highest level, perhaps it was the larrikin streak in there, but I would have him right up there with the best players in Australia. He is up there with Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler and Darren Lockyer; with the elite half-backs because his skill and talent is so high… His passing game was probably the best I had ever played with.”

From those early days at St Helens through to his role as elder statesman in a Warrington team that finally began to fulfil its potential, Briers was always a player that was impossible to ignore.

His infectious enthusiasm, the cheeky lip to referees and the undeniable on-field brilliance will linger in memories well beyond the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

“I just want to be known as someone who was entertaining, a little unpredictable and who always played with a smile on his face. If people remember that, with a pint in their hands, then that’ll do me.”

It’s hard to see him not getting his wish.

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Off The Cuff: The Lee Briers Autobiography, by Lee Briers and Mike Appleton, is available now. ISBN 978-1904091783, published by Vertical Editions. Buy now and save on the cover price.

REVIEW: Coaching Is Chaos, by John Kear and Peter Smith

Few rugby league books can ever have started with quite so much intensity as Coaching Is Chaos.

John Kear’s new autobiography is a trawl through a coaching career that has included two Challenge Cup successes, as well as steering England through their 2000 World Cup campaign.

But life is not just about fairytales.

Chapter One – entitled simply ‘Adam and Leon’ – contains Kear’s memories of the deaths of Wakefield’s Adam Watene and Leon Walker. It is everything you would expect: poignant, upsetting and deeply moving.

“I hope no club ever has to go through a year like it, but the strength of the club and the sport shone through. Throughout all the heartbreak, I was proud to be associated with both.”

Kear has worked with Yorkshire Evening Post writer Peter Smith on producing this book. The result is a well-written, thoughtful autobiography that is both revealing and entertaining.

A fall-out with Kath Hetherington is explained in detail, as is the planning that went into Sheffield’s 1998 Challenge Cup triumph.

Kear and his Eagles team wrote themselves into rugby league folklore that day, but it was nearly very different.

“We travelled to the capital on the Thursday and went out tenpin bowling and then for a Chinese meal in the evening. I had an allergic reaction to something I ate and one stage I was quite seriously poorly… I rang the team doctor, Janet Hornbuckle. Fortunately she had some Piriton, which is an allergy cure, with her. That settled everything down, but at one stage my eyes had swollen up so much they were starting to close and she was on the point of taking me to a hospital… I was convinced I was going to miss the biggest game of my life.”

Kear’s love of rugby league bursts off every page of Coaching Is Chaos, and one of the final chapters includes his thoughts on the future of the sport.

Rugby league has been better for having Kear involved. This cracking read shows exactly why he is so highly thought of.

 

Coaching Is Chaos, by John Kear and Peter Smith, is available now. ISBN 978-0956804358, published by Scratching Shed Publishing. Buy now and save on the cover price.

REVIEW: Moz: My Story, by Adrian Morley and Phil Wilkinson

Adrian Morley has been around a bit. So long, in fact, that he actually played alongside Ellery Hanley, the last British hero of rugby league who was appreciated Down Under as much as Moz.

Hanley is one of an impressive array of sporting stars to have contributed chapters to Morley’s autobiography Moz: My Story. Ryan Giggs, Jamie Peacock, Ruben Wiki, Ricky Stuart and Matt King have also chipped in.

But it is only when Hanley starts his tribute that it dawns on you how long Morley has been tearing teams to bits. “I only ever played alongside Adrian for a few minutes,” writes Hanley, who left Leeds in the mid-nineties, “but I saw enough of him then to convince me he was destined to be a great player.”

Morley has been the perfect link between Hanley’s era and today’s full time athletes. At times he has been the leading forward in the world, with a game built on aggression and stamina that carried his intimidating frame through the toughest challenges rugby league has to offer.

But at other times, such as receiving a drink driving ban just weeks after an Ashes test series sponsored by the ‘Think! Don’t Drink and Drive’ campaign, he has made charmingly shambolic mistakes that hark back to the sport’s more amateur days.

Morley can at least smile now, reflecting in the epilogue that ‘by page 65 of this book I’ve been CS gassed three times. Three times! That’s just about as far removed from my life now as it could get.”

Regardless of what has happened off the field, he is a man who will be remembered for his on-field actions – and with a new contract under his arm, there is still more to come.

It is often repeated that Morley is as pleasant off the field as he is frightening on it. Moz: My Story paints a picture of a man who values family, loyalty, faith and friends, but who also knows how to have a laugh with the best of them.

Morley finishes his story by looking ahead, to a time beyond rugby league. “A time when no one will want my autograph or picture. A time when I will have to pay to keep fit, instead of being paid for it.”

He is unlikely to be forgotten.


 
Moz: My Story, by Adrian Morley and Phil Wilkinson, is available now. ISBN 978-1907637575, published by Vision Sports Publishing. Buy now and save on the cover price.

This is an edited version of a review that appears in the November 2012 issue of Forty-20 magazine. Buy the magazine to read the full, extensive review.

REVIEW: A Lad From Donkey Common: A Rugby League Life, by Austin Rhodes

WITH the World Cup less than 12 months away, few Englishmen have the first-hand knowledge of what it takes to win rugby league’s biggest global tournament.

But Austin Rhodes, whose autobiography A Lad From Donkey Common has just been published by London League Publications, is one of them.

The former St Helens, Leigh and Swinton goal-kicking ace was equally at home at full back or stand-off, and his skills were rewarded with Challenge Cup triumphs along with the tag of world champion in 1960, having played his part in Britain’s 10-3 win over Australia at Odsal.

This is a nostalgic reflection on rugby league as it was in the fifties and sixties, made all the more interesting by contributions from Frank Myler and Tom van Vollenhoven.

Rhodes explains: “As a result of rugby league I was able to meet my wife, buy my house and forge enduring friendships with many people at home and abroad.

“Perhaps I’ve paid the price for competing in such a tough sport with a series of hip replacements since I retired from playing. I’ve had four procedures on the same hip up to 2011 – probably a world record. But if I had my time again, would I change anything? Not really.”

 

A Lad From Donkey Common: A Rugby League Life, by Austin Rhodes, is available now. ISBN 9781903659649, published by London League Publications. Buy now and save on the cover price.

This review originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Forty-20 magazine.

REVIEW: Robbie Rugby Warrior: The Autobiography, by Robbie Hunter-Paul

Robbie Hunter-Paul was always a little different. Part of his appeal was that you never knew – and often got the impression he didn’t either – what was coming next. In an era when Super League was establishing itself and part-time players were getting used to life as full-time professionals, Robbie was the fast-talking, hot-footed star who always did something, anything, to catch the eye.

Robbie Rugby Warrior follows the same mould. Not content with a traditional autobiography, the former Bradford scrum-half has, at the end of each chapter, included his guide to life as a professional athlete. Whether it’s a concept that works is going to differ from reader to reader. Younger readers, perhaps still dreaming of their own rugby league careers, will soak it up. Older readers might be forgiven for skipping to the start of the next chapter, where it’s back to the rugby and life as one of the sport’s leading figures.

And it’s there, in the thick of the action, where Robbie Rugby Warrior comes into its own. Hunter-Paul, or plain old simple Paul as he was back then, starts with a bang: the moment he claimed his place in rugby league history as the first man to score three tries in a Wembley Challenge Cup final.

“Get it down, just get the thing down. Brain’s whirring. I’m at full tilt. It’s for the hat-trick, I know that… I’m nearly there. Rather than slide and get grass burns, I roll. It’s as I come up, fist pumping, that it hits me with a blinding force. A wall of 30,000 Bradford Bulls fans losing their minds… for that one fleeting, glorious moment, I knew just how it felt to be a rock star.”

Hunter-Paul worked tirelessly with ghostwriter Chris Irvine of The Times to produce a book that is both energetic and considered. He had his scrapes, which he talks about in detail, but he will be remembered as Super League’s leading light during its formative years.

There are touching moments too, with a tale involving Bernard Dwyer highlighting Bradford’s determination to succeed at all costs. Dwyer had already injured one arm, before things got particularly difficult.

“He went into a tackle and tore the other bicep. Both his arms hung limp, but like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there was a staunch refusal in him to give up. Matty Elliott showed us the footage the following day… (he) put the video in slow motion mode, which showed the moment Bernard tore his other bicep. ‘Watch what he does,’ Matty said. ‘He gets back and launches at them with his head. The guy’s career has finished in that moment, but he didn’t come off until we got the ball back.’ For everyone who witnessed that footage it became the stuff of legend.”

This isn’t a Sean Long-style confessional, but it’s far from dry and there are plenty of hidden secrets, some of them dark, that Hunter-Paul does reveal. Robbie Rugby Warrior is a worthy addition to any rugby league bookshelf.

Robbie Rugby Warrior: The Autobiography, by Robbie Hunter-Paul, is available now. ISBN 978-1905080106, published by Great Northern Books. Buy now and save on the cover price. Kindle Edition also available by clicking here.

REVIEW: The Bald Truth, by Keith Senior and Peter Smith

Keith Senior: The Bald Truth

Keith Senior: The Bald Truth

Want to know what happened when Kevin Sinfield threw a bowl of peanuts at Gary Hetherington? The truth behind Keith Senior’s 2005 Challenge Cup final injury? Or – perhaps less likely – Brian Carney’s toilet habits? It’s all in The Bald Truth, Senior’s fast-paced and searingly honest autobiography.

Ghostwriter Peter Smith has done a cracking job, while Senior’s attitude is one of the book’s huge strengths. The Bald Truth is a forthright and upfront read, with Senior touching on all the controversies and high points of his remarkable career. [Read more…]

REVIEW: From Grass to Glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

It says much about Paul Loughlin’s career that, even after 10 years in retirement, the former St Helens, Bradford and Great Britain centre can still command enough interest to publish From Grass to Glass, his revealing and witty autobiography.

Loughlin achieved so much as a player: he scored more than 2,000 points for St Helens, represented Great Britain 15 times and twice toured Down Under with the national team.

For some, he will go down as the unfortunate bloke who got to five Challenge Cup finals – and lost the lot.

But for most, the memories are of a classy centre who had natural talent. Loughlin admits he could have been even better had he been coached by the likes of Brian Smith at the start of his career, rather than at the end, but there are very few regrets in his story. [Read more…]

REVIEW: From Hull to Hell and back, by Lee Crooks and Vince Groak

From Hull to Hell and back... Lee Crooks' autobiography

From Hull to Hell and back... Lee Crooks' autobiography is out now

For sheer warts-and-all honesty, From Hull to Hell and back is up there with Sean Long’s autobiography.

Lee Crooks recently told Rugby League Books how his autobiography had been three years in the making.

It has been time well spent, because the final product is something that Crooks and ghostwriter Vince Groak can both look upon with pride.

At nearly 350 pages, it’s certainly one of the longer rugby league books of recent years. But Groak has put plenty of effort and craft into creating a story that is easy to read, meaning pages get turned extremely quickly. [Read more…]

REVIEW: Being John Stankevitch, by John Stankevitch

Being John Stankevitch

Being John Stankevitch

As a player, John Stankevitch was honest and tough. Being John Stankevitch is exactly the same.

Stankevitch wrote the book himself, sitting down after work every day for two months to complete what he labelled as “therapy” during an earlier interview with Rugby League Books.

When Stankevitch’s career came to a premature end aged just 25, it sent him on a downward spiral from which it took years to recover.

Details of contract negotiations, mounting debts and wrong decisions are all laid bare with brutal candour. [Read more…]

REVIEW: Longy: Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal, by Sean Long and Nick Appleyard

Longy: Booze Brawls Sex and Scandal, by Sean Long and Nick Appleyard

Longy: Booze Brawls Sex and Scandal, by Sean Long and Nick Appleyard

Sean Long has done it all.

Record-breaking treble Lance Todd Trophy winner? Tick. Last-minute Grand Final-winning drop goals? Tick. National hero when Great Britain won in Sydney in 2006? Tick.

There’s been the daft stuff, too: a three-month ban for betting on St Helens to lose at Bradford, the end of his international career when he walked out on that 2006 Tri-Nations tour, and more silly haircuts than any of us can remember.

Longy: Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal covers the whole lot.

And the result is a book that is just as lively as Long’s career. [Read more…]