Ellery Hanley

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Ellery Hanley
Personal information
Full name Ellery Cuthwyn Hanley
Nickname The Black Pearl,[1] Mr. Magic
Born (1961-03-27) 27 March 1961 (age 54)
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Playing information
Position Loose forward, Centre, Five-eighth, Wing
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1978–85 Bradford Northern 126 89 356
1985–90 Wigan 202 189 756
1988 Balmain 8 5 0 20
1989 Western Suburbs 13 4 0 16
1991–95 Leeds 104 106 424
1996–97 Balmain 26 3 0 13
Total 479 396 0 0 1585
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1984–93 Great Britain 36 20 0 80
Coaching information
Years Team Gms W D L W%
1999 St Helens 34 26 0 8 76
2008 Doncaster 1 0 0 1 0
Total 35 26 0 9 74
Years Team Gms W D L W%
1994 Great Britain 3 1 0 2 33
Source: Rugby League Project

Ellery Cuthwyn Hanley MBE (born 27 March 1961 in Leeds, West Yorkshire) is a British former rugby league player of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and former head coach of Great Britain, St Helens and Doncaster.

As a player he played most of his games at either stand off or loose forward after starting out as a Centre or winger. Over a period of nineteen years, he played for Bradford Northern, Wigan, Balmain, Western Suburbs and Leeds. He was capped 34 times by Great Britain, and honoured by the Queen in January 1990 for his services to the game. In 2007, he was voted as the greatest British rugby league player of all time.[2]

Club career[edit]

Bradford Northern[edit]

In 1978, Ellery Hanley signed for Bradford Northern from the junior club Corpus Christi.[3] On 26 November 1978, he made his professional debut for Northern against Rochdale Hornets in a League Division One match. He helped his club to a 30–18 victory, by scoring a try on his debut.[4] He had to wait his time before gaining a regular first team place but in the early 1980s he exploded onto the scene as one of the top try scoring non-wing players in the history of the game.

Ellery Hanley played Stand-off/Five-eighth, and scored a conversion in Bradford Northern's 5–10 defeat by Castleford in the 1981 Yorkshire Cup final during the 1981–82 season at Headingley Stadium, Leeds, on Saturday 3 October 1981.

In 1984–85, his final season with the club, Hanley became the first man to score more than 50 tries in a season since Sir Anthony Bennett and the first non-winger to reach this figure for 70 years.[3] He scored a remarkable 55 tries in only 37 appearances, an achievement made even more remarkable as he switched between the several positions of wing, centre and stand-off.[4] For his achievements in the 1984–85 season, he was awarded the Man of Steel award, which is awarded to the personality judged to have made the biggest impact in the season, as well as the First Division Player of the Year.

In total, Hanley made 126 appearances for the club, scoring 89 tries.[4]


In 1985 he signed for Wigan for a fee of £150,000, with Steve Donlan and Phil Ford moving to Bradford Northern in exchange for Hanley as part of the deal. Hanley finished his first season for the club with 35 tries.

During his second season at Wigan he scored 63 tries playing at centre, stand-off and loose forward, an all-time record for a non-winger. Ellery Hanley played Centre, i.e. number 4 in Wigan's 14–8 victory over New Zealand in the 1985 New Zealand rugby league tour of Great Britain and France match at Central Park, Wigan on Sunday 6 October 1985.[5] In the 1987 season, Hanley was awarded the Man of Steel award for being voted as the player who made the biggest impact during the season. His achievements that year helped Wigan to their first league title in 27 years. During the 1987–88 Rugby Football League season, he played for defending champions Wigan at loose forward in their 1987 World Club Challenge victory against the visiting Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

Ellery Hanley played Centre, i.e. number 4, and scored a try in Wigan's 34–8 victory over Warrington in the 1985 Lancashire Cup final during the 1985–86 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens, on Sunday 13 October 1985,[6] played Stand-off/Five-eighth in the 15–8 victory over Oldham in the 1986 Lancashire Cup final during the 1986–87 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens, on Sunday 19 October 1986,[7] played Loose forward/Lock, and scored 2-tries in the 28–16 victory over Warrington in the 1987 Lancashire Cup final during the 1987–88 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens, on Sunday 11 October 1987,[8] and played Loose forward/Lock in Wigan's 22–17 victory over Salford in the 1988 Lancashire Cup final during the 1988–89 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens on Sunday 23 October 1988.[9]

In 1988 Hanley was in dispute with Wigan and was stripped of the captaincy. He was transfer listed at a then record £350,000. But when Wigan reached the semi-final of the 1988 Rugby League Challenge Cup against Salford, coach Graham Lowe recalled Hanley to the team. Upon his return Hanley scored a try and was instrumental in the emphatic performance which followed in the final.[dubious ] The 1988 final between Wigan and Halifax was only the second million pound final. Hanley tore Halifax apart with one of the all time great tries at Wembley Stadium.[dubious ] Ironically it was set up by Joe Lydon – reminiscent of the two tries he scored against Wigan four years earlier. Ray French claimed it was the second greatest ever seen in a final. [1]

Hanley was then selected as captain for the 1988 Great Britain Lions tour.

In 1989, Hanley helped the club reach the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, where they won a 27–0 victory over St Helens in front of a crowd of approximately 78,000 people at Wembley. For his performance in the Final, he was awarded the Lance Todd Trophy for the man of the match.[10] For his performances throughout the season he was also awarded the Man of Steel award for the second time as a Wigan player, and the third time in his overall career. 1989 was also the year in which Hanley was awarded the Adidas Golden Boot, which was awarded to the world's most outstanding player. Looking back at the period where he was dubbed the best rugby league player in the world,[dubious ] Hanley remembers that "It was something I always strove for. I wanted to be the best player in the world...Looking back, to be the world's best player at that time was the biggest honour of my career."[11]

He led Wigan to another two League and Cup doubles. By 1991 though his relationship with the media reached an all time low. Although both Wigan and Great Britain captain, he was not expected to carry out any media role. Hanley was inducted into the Wigan Hall of Fame in 2007.

In total he spent around five years with the club, making 202 appearances and scoring 189 tries. He was the inspiration behind Wigan's domination of the sport in the late 1980s.[dubious ] In his Wigan career, he won a World Club Championship, 4 Challenge Cup winners medals, 3 Championships, 1 Premiership, 4 John Player Trophy Winners medals and 4 Lancashire Cup winners medals. He was also voted Man of Steel twice as a Wigan player.

Balmain (1988)[edit]

Hanley, the 1988 Great Britain Lions tour captain touring side's captain was signed by Sydney club the Balmain Tigers to play the remaining rounds of the 1988 NSWRFL season for them once his representative commitments were fulfilled.[12] In his first season with the club he helped them to the Grand Final in 1988 against Canterbury by defeating Penrith, Manly, Canberra as well as Cronulla in the preliminary finals. The preliminary final against Cronulla was a closely fought battle, until Hanley went to set up the try that would seal the victory for Balmain as they edged out their opponents 9–2, the win sending the club to their first Grand Final since 1969.

The first half of the Grand Final was a tight contest as Balmain led 6–4 with the Tigers scoring thanks to a mistake from Canterbury fullback Jason Alchin. In the 26th minute, Hanley was wrapped up low by Andrew Farrar and as he want to offload the ball, Terry Lamb hit Hanley with a high shot[13] that went unnoticed by the referee. He hit the ground in an awkward position and was concussed. He played no further part in the match. His side went on to lose the game 24–12. Many people claim to this day that Lamb intentionally took out Hanley as a ploy for the Bulldogs to win the Grand Final.[dubious ] Lamb said he was only looking to wrap the ball up and there was no intention. Lamb commented in his 1992 book that Balmain had key players such as Wayne Pearce, Ben Elias, Paul Sironen and Garry Jack that there was no chance to target one individual.

Speaking to Inside Sport Magazine in August 2005, Hanley was asked:

What do you remember about that infamous tackle by Terry Lamb?

"I don’t know if it was caused by Terry Lamb, or if it was just my head hitting the ground. I couldn’t tell you because I have never looked at it since. Some people have said Terry got a good shot on me. I suspect, however, it was more a case of my head hitting the ground. I like to think it was accidental. Afterwards, I was concussed and didn’t know where I was. I didn’t regain all my faculties immediately so, from a safety point of view, I had to come off the football field. It was a shame, but it is a physical game and sometimes things like that happen."

Have you spoken to Lamb since then?

"No, I never have. I have never bumped into him. I have to say I respect him as a footballer. I don’t know him as a person, but by all accounts he is a good guy. Let me be clear that I have no malice towards him, none at all, regardless of the incident being deliberate or accidental."[11]

The New South Wales Rugby League despite all the media pressure backed up Lamb's version of events and deemed he had no case to answer.

Western Suburbs[edit]

In 1989, Hanley moved from Balmain to Western Suburbs. He played a total of thirteen games, scoring four tries for a total of sixteen points in his one and only season for the club. 1989 was also the year in which Hanley was awarded the Adidas Rugby League World Golden Boot Award, which was awarded to the world's most outstanding player.


In September 1991 at the age of 30, he joined Leeds as a player and coach for £250,000, (based on increases in average earnings, this would be approximately £541,600 in 2013).[14] Upon his arrival at the club, he was immediately appointed captain. In his time at Leeds, he not only gave them great service as a player, but he also was a great mentor for the younger players at the club. He was selected to go on the 1992 Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand, but his appearances were restricted by injury. Also in 1992 he played from the bench in Great Britain's loss to Australia in the World Cup final at Wembley.

The 1993–94 season saw Hanley play in the Challenge Cup final for the first time with Leeds. In the previous game, the Challenge Cup semi-final, Leeds faced St Helens at Central Park. Having absorbed a terrific pounding from marshalling heroic last-ditch defence, Hanley capped off a magnificent game with two great tries to put the club back on the big stage for the first time in sixteen years. In the Final, the clubs opponents were Hanley's former club Wigan. In front of an official attendance at Wembley of 78,348, Leeds were defeated at the hands of Wigan by 26 points to 16.

In the 1994–95 season, Hanley set a new world record for a forward, scoring an incredible 41 tries in a season. During that season, Hanley helped the club reach the Challenge Cup final at Wembley for the second consecutive year. Ironically it was the same opponent that they faced a year earlier in the same competition final. In front of an attendance of 78,550 they were defeated, just as they had been a year earlier by their opponents, this time going down 30–10.

Whilst playing for Leeds, the World League of American football was formed in 1991. It was reported that Hanley would play for the London Monarchs but this never materialised.

Balmain (1996–97)[edit]

In 1996 and well past his prime, Hanley returned to the Australian club Balmain on his second spell with the club. Ellery Hanley looks back at the time he spent in Australia and remembers that "I wanted to be respected by the Australians as well, because their game is so superior to ours."[11]

Representative career[edit]

Ellery Hanley won caps for England while at Bradford Northern in 1984 against Wales, while at Leeds in 1992 against Wales,[15] and won caps for Great Britain while at Bradford Northern in 1984 against France (sub), France, Australia (3 matches), New Zealand (3 matches), and Papua New Guinea, in 1985 against France (2 matches), while at Wigan in 1985 against New Zealand (3 matches), in 1986 against France, and Australia, in 1987 against France (2 matches), and Papua New Guinea, in 1988 against France (2 matches), Papua New Guinea, Australia (3 matches), and New Zealand, in 1989 against France (2 matches), in 1990 against France, and Australia (3 matches), in 1991 against France (2 matches), while at Leeds in 1992 against Australia, in 1993 against France.[16]

Great Britain[edit]

He made his Great Britain debut as a substitute, whilst still a Bradford Northern player, in January 1984 against France in Avignon. He was selected in the Great Britain squad in 1984 to tour to Australia, for the Ashes series. He was one of the stars of the 1984 Ashes series, scoring a remarkable twelve tries playing mostly on the wing.

In 1988, he became a regular member of the Great Britain squad and was also appointed as the captain of the Great Britain squad. In the 1988 Ashes series, he led his side to victory over Australia for the first time in 10 seasons. Along the way he also scored eight tries.

Hanley also toured to Australia in 1992 for the Ashes series. But despite arriving as captain of the British squad, on the field he made only one appearance and played less than fifteen minutes in a minor tour match against Newcastle.

In total he was capped 34 times by Great Britain.

Coaching career[edit]

In 1994, Hanley was appointed coach of the Great Britain national rugby league team during the Ashes series of 1994, which was held in Great Britain. His appointment in the coaching role of the Great Britain squad meant he had become the first black person to coach or manage a major national team in Great Britain.

In 1999, he was appointed as the coach of St. Helens as the successor to Shaun McRae. In his first season as coach, he managed to lead his side to the 1999 Super League Grand Final. His side defeated Bradford, the club he began his professional playing career at, by 8–6 in October of that year. Whilst he harboured a strong desire to win, he could appear aloof and had several acrimonious disagreements with the St. Helens board of directors, which led to his suspension[17] and eventual sacking as the manager of St Helens RLFC in 2000. Ian Millward was appointed as his successor for the role of the St Helens coach.

He switched to rugby union coaching and took up posts with Bristol Rugby and in the England national set-up. He also got involved in the sport of squash before returning to rugby league as a coaching consultant with Castleford in 2004. He worked with Cas for just two months before leaving.

On 14 December 2007 Hanley was unveiled as the coach of National League Two Club Doncaster.[2] He resigned from that rôle on 28 September 2008, following Doncaster's successful promotion play-off campaign.


In January 1990 he was honoured with an MBE by the Queen for his services to rugby league. Fifteen years later, in October 2005, he was inducted into the British Rugby League Hall of Fame.[18]

Outside of rugby[edit]

On 5 January 2009, it was announced on This Morning that Hanley would be one of thirteen celebrities taking part in the new series of Dancing on Ice, partnered with Frankie Poultney. He was the sixth person to be eliminated from the show, after falling on the ice during the final dance-off. He was referred to disparagingly by judge Jason Gardiner, who likened him to Mr Potato Head.[19]

Hanley is also the uncle of British Professional boxer Jonathan Oakey.[20]


  1. ^ Spracklen, Karl (2001). 'Black Pearl, Black Diamonds' Exploring racial identities in rugby league. Routledge. ISBN 9780415246293. 
  2. ^ "Ellery cool about chances on ice". The St Helens Reporter (Johnston Press Digital Publishing). 22 January 2009. Retrieved 17 December 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Wigan Warriors Official Website Ellery Hanley MBE article. URL retrieved 5 August 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Bradford Bulls Official Website Bull Masters – Ellery Hanley article. URL retrieved 5 August 2006.
  5. ^ "1985 Tour match: Wigan 14 New Zealand 8". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "1985–1986 Lancashire Cup Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "1986–1987 Lancashire Cup Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "1987–1988 Lancashire Cup Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  9. ^ "1988–1989 Lancashire Cup Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Demsteader, Christine (1 October 2000). "Rugby League's home from home". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). Retrieved 4 December 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c "A few drinks with Ellery Hanley" article. URL retrieved 5 August 2006.
  12. ^ MacDonald, John (29 June 1988). "Tigers sign Hanley for last Rounds". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  13. ^ Coady, Ben (28 September 2009). "Grand final dramas". WA Today (Australia: Fairfax Digital). Retrieved 15 January 2010. 
  14. ^ "Measuring Worth – Relative Value of UK Pounds". Measuring Worth. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  15. ^ "England Statistics at englandrl.co.uk". englandrl. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  16. ^ "Great Britain Statistics at englandrl.co.uk". englandrl. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  17. ^ Blackshaw, Ian Stewart (2002). Mediating sports disputes: national and international perspectives. Cambridge University Press. p. 86. ISBN 9789067041461. 
  18. ^ news.bbc.co.uk (17 October 2005). "Hanley given Hall of Fame honour". BBC Sport (BBC). Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  19. ^ Johnson, Chris (16 February 2009). "Ellery Hanley crashes out of Dancing on Ice after embarrassing tumble". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  20. ^ Television interview. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Oakey

External links[edit]

Preceded by
George Fairbairn
Rugby league transfer record
Bradford Northern to Wigan

Succeeded by
Joe Lydon
Preceded by
Graham Steadman
Rugby league transfer record
Wigan to Leeds

Succeeded by
Martin Offiah