Dual-code rugby legend David Watkins has been inducted into the Wales Rugby League Hall of Fame.
He becomes the fourth Welshman to be honoured in this way following Billy Boston, Gus Risman and Mike Nicholas since the Hall of Fame was introduced two years ago.
The presentation occurred at the Greenmeadow Golf Club in Cwmbran on Friday 16th March as part of the proceedings at the Welsh Charitables 17th Annual Presidents Tie Presentation Dinner.
The guest speaker at the dinner was Watkins’ former Wales and Great Britain team-mate Jim Mills. He said: “Who deserves more than Dai to be in the Welsh Hall of Fame? He’s been a tremendous ambassador for Wales. He was a wonderful player – I played against him in both rugby union and rugby league and there was none better. He flew across the field and was a wonderful player. I was very lucky to play alongside him on a number of occasions.
“I think that the WRL Hall of Fame should have started many years ago, but the lads running it now are doing a great job and have got the show on the road. I’m sure that we’ll get some more great players who have played rugby league into the Hall of Fame and make it a wonderful success.”
Also speaking about Watkins that night was Wales Rugby League’s Head of Communications and historian Ian Golden, who documented the former Salford, Wales and Great Britain star’s life, and the WRL chairman Brian Juliff, who was delighted to present Watkins with a trophy in a memorable evening for all who attended.
Juliff said: “Dai was a big hero of mine when I was growing up and it’s not surprising as he is one of the greatest players to have pulled on a Welsh shirt. I couldn’t believe it when I actually got to play alongside him for Wales and then was also coached by him when playing for Wales. I also faced up against Dai but I preferred to be on the same team. We’ve remained great friends throughout the years and it was an honour to induct Dai as the fourth member of the Wales Rugby League Hall of Fame.”
Watkins is recognised as one of the greatest Welshmen to have ever pulled on a rugby shirt.
Known to his friends as Dai, he is famous as the only man to captain Wales and the British Lions in both codes, including the last time Wales beat New Zealand in a full international in either form, a 25-24 win in Swansea in 1975.
But that is just part of his story.
Born in Blaina in 1942, he joined Newport RFC in 1961 from Cwmcelyn Youth but also played some games for Abertillery, Ebbw Vale and Pontypool.
But before his move to Newport, he was actually offered £5,000 to join St Helens when he was only 18. His mother said “let’s all go” but his father said “my son will play for Wales!”
He famously played for Newport for seven seasons, scoring 294 points in 202 games, the highlight being a 3-0 home win over the touring All Blacks in 1963. He was capped 21 times for Wales in rugby union and six times for the Lions. And he was the current captain of all three sides when Salford came in for him in 1967 for £16,000.
His move was a shock to everyone in rugby union at the time. Saturday’s South Wales Football Argus merely commented that Newport had ‘lost David Watkins’ for their 13-13 draw with Gloucester but by then Watkins had already made his Salford debut. They rushed him into the team for their Friday night match against Oldham and Saturday afternoon’s Argus recorded: “The latest recruit from Welsh rugby, Watkins looked well worth his record signing fee of £13,000 as he tore apart the Oldham defence, scoring a try and two dropped goals in Salford’s 12-6 victory.”
Watkins became Salford’s record points scorer with 2,907 points in 407 games and in 1972-73 he kicked a world record 221 goals in a season. He also holds the longest scoring run record where he notched points in 92 consecutive matches for Salford from 19 August 1972 to 25 April 1974. Thanks to him, Salford won the league title in 1973–74 and 1975–76.
WRL heritage #268, he won 16 Wales RL caps and captained the side to 1975 World Cup wins over New Zealand, France and England (in the famous Battle of Brisbane). He also won six caps for Great Britain.
In 1977 he coached Great Britain in the next World Cup as they reached the Final only to lose 13-12 to Australia. He then went on to coach Wales and also became one of the founders and coaches of Cardiff City Blue Dragons in 1981, helping to reintroduce rugby league into South Wales. He received an MBE for his services to rugby league in 1986.
Watkins remained in the Newport area and such was his standing in the community, he became the Newport RFC team manager in 1992, three years before the ban was lifted for any rugby league players to be involved in rugby union.
He later became the Newport RFC’s chairman. He remained a supporter of rugby league in Wales and later became president of Celtic Crusaders RLFC and was often seen at their matches as well as games in Gwent.
And just last year, he was honoured with the Special Recognition Award at the Sport Wales Awards at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.
Juliff, Mills and Billy Boston were also honoured on the night by Welsh Charitables RFC as they were inducted as Honorary Vice Presidents of the society and presented with their ties.
In addition to the stars from both rugby codes, former Cardiff City and Wales international goalkeeper, the Cwmbran-born Andy Dibble, was also inducted and presented with a tie.
They all join a distinguished list that already includes Watkins, plus people like Max Boyce, Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Shane Williams.
During the after dinner speeches, it was also announced that Welsh Charitables RFC will be donating £2,000 to the Rugby League Cares charity, as well as the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust, Prince’s Trust Wales, Llamau UK and Wales Deaf Rugby.