|Full name||Clifford H. Watson|
26 April 1940 |
Stepney, London, England
|Height||5 ft 11½ in (182 cm)|
Clifford H. Watson (born on the 26 April 1940 in London, England) is a former rugby league footballer of the 1960s and '70s. He played for the St. Helens rugby football club in the English Rugby Football League Championship and later the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in the New South Wales Rugby League premiership in Australia. His position of choice while playing was at prop-forward. Along with hardman Ken Gee and legendary captain Alan Prescott, he remains one of the best Great Britain frontrowers ever.
Watson originally played amateur rugby union in England for Dudley Kingswinford in the West Midlands competition before answering a St. Helens club advertisement for "top class Rugby Union forwards". A trial was arranged and in 1960 he was signed to the club for £750 initially and then a further £750 after he had completed six first grade games for the club. However his career first started to gain momentum after the 1961 Rugby League Challenge Cup final against Wigan; in front of 95,000 fans Watson's defence was instrumental in helping his club gain a 12-6 victory over their rivals and helped keep Cliff a permanent fixture in the team line-up for the next ten years.
After playing out eleven seasons for St. Helens, Watson moved to Australia and signed on to the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks with fellow Great Britain and St. Helens team mate Tommy Bishop. In his three seasons at the club Watson made an impact in leading a young and inexperienced pack of forwards always by example. His presence along with that of Bishop undoubtedly helped the young Cronulla club to its maiden grand-final in 1973.
Watson also went on to represent Great Britain on thirty occasions becoming known for his physical, tough and all-round fearless style of play. He played for the British between 1963 and 1970 often striking fear into opponents. He retired from first grade and international rugby league altogether after the 1973 season.
Childhood and early career
Clifford Watson was born into a working class family in Central London on the 26th April 1940; he grew up playing both codes of rugby but slowly began to steer himself toward the amateur game of the day in rugby union. At the early age of seventeen Watson trialled for Dudley Kingswinford rugby union football club where he was quickly signed and placed into the first team at second-row, quickly displaying his natural ability by cementing a regular place in the squad at such a young age.
His career continued to grow in stature when within a year of signing for Dudley Kingswinford, Watson was selected for his first representative role with the Worcestershire and Herefordshire Combined Counties side and playing on several occasions in a new role of prop-forward.
At the end of the 1959 season Watson decided on a switch of codes after wanting to forge a career in rugby league. After viewing an advertisement listed in the Sporting Chronicle by St. Helens offering trials for 'top class Rugby Union forwards', Watson replied offering his services to the club and outlining his statistics and credentials he had accomplished in rugby union. St. Helens quickly replied and a trial was organised for 2 August after which Watson was signed to a six game contract worth fifteen hundred pounds.
He made his debut for the Lancashire club on 15 August 1960 playing at prop-forward in what turned out to be a loss to local rivals Liverpool City at home. However he quickly adjusted to the new game, slowly establishing himself and garnering a reputation as a tough, resilient and hard working player amongst fellow professionals and spectators alike something which never did never change throughout his career.
Watson played out the six matches as per terms on his original contract and quickly re-signed for the club establishing himself further with each passing game played. After a mere eleven competitive matches for his new club Watson shot to fame in the 1961 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final against Wigan at Wembley with his quick thinking and often vital defence; although it took Watson a further seven matches to garner his maiden first grade point against Barrow on 23 September 1961.
After the Challenge Cup final Watson became a regular first team member of the Saints side of the 1960s. Watson tasted further success in 1961 with a Charity Cup victory in 1961 and a Lancashire Cup final victory over Swinton.
His career continued to flourish for St. Helens during the rest of the 1960s being first selected for Great Britain in 1963 and winning a further three consecutive Lancashire Cup finals in 1962, 1964 and 1967; the Western division Championship in 1963; the Gallie Cup in 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970; the Championship trophy in 1966 and a further Challenge Cup in 1966.
Watson played his 373rd and last match for St. Helens in England on 7 May 1971 against Leeds before being enticed to sign with newly formed Australian club the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks by ex-team mate and present Sharks player/coach Tommy Bishop.
BBC2 Floodlit Trophy final appearances
After making his way to the New South Wales Rugby League competition with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, the now international veteran immediately assumed the role of leader in a young and inexperienced forward pack.
Slowly but surely his lead by example attitude and influence took effect. After success had passed the Sharks by for the 1971 and 1972 seasons, hard work paid off in 1973 with the team making their maiden Grand final appearance. Watson toiled long and hard throughout the length of the match but premiership success was to elude him at the Sharks.
At the beginning of the 1974 competition, Watson did not come to terms with the financially struggling club and decided to play in the lower grades, seeing out the remainder of his career with Wollongong Souths in the Illawarra competition.
In 1979, he returned to Sydney to coach the North Sydney Bears reserve grade team.
Cliff made his international debut against the touring Australian Kangaroo side in 1963 and immediately struck fear into the hearts of all the touring players with his rugged, aggressive and often unpredictable style of play. This was seen on more than one occasion such as when he introduced the Australian players and viewing public to the infamous "Liverpool kiss" in a Brisbane test match on Jim "Pogo" Morgan (according to Watson the two shook hands after the match and ended up as good friends). Watson holds the dubious record of being the only British player to be sent off twice against Australia.
Watson featured in another three British tours in 1966, 1967 and 1970. A made a sole World Cup appearance in 1970.
Career playing statistics
Point scoring summary
"There is only one way to beat the Australians, You have got to get in there and thump them. If you let them run at you, they'll annihilate you. It's always been the same; if you belt them, they don't like it." (Cliff Watson, on how to defeat the Australian rugby league side.)
"I never wore a mouthgard... hated them... too uncomfortable and, besides, you couldn't abuse the referee."
"I came here to play football, not run in a bloody Melbourne Cup." (Watson responding to Tommy Bishop's training methods.)
"It's all right... it's all right. They're not playing yet." (Watson's response to Tommy Bishop as to why he was only leaning casually against the goal posts and not warming up before the 1973 Grand Final.)
"I've had 12 broken noses, two broken jaws, five broken arms, four rib cartilages, four broken ribs..." (Watson reminiscing about his old footballing injuries.)
"Can you wait while I whip up and tell the wife I won't be home for tea." (Watson after breaking his jaw and then completing the first half against Penrith in round 2, 1972 just before leaving the ground for the hospital.)
- "1968-1968 BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- Cliff Watson St. Helens Player Profile
- Cliff Watson, Era of the Biff Profile
- England Statistics at englandrl.co.uk
- Great Britain Statistics at englandrl.co.uk
- Statistics at rugbyleagueproject.org