St David’s Day: A look back at some of the best Welsh Wire players

Wire have had plenty of Welsh players over the years.

From an exodus of union stars in the 70s and 90s, lured by the bright lights and the big cities – and money – of rugby league, to top class talent with Welsh heritage, there’s a lot of players who have worn the primrose and blue of Warrington and the famous red jersey of Wales over the years.

So, seeing as it’s St. David’s Day, the patron saints of Wales, here’s some of our favourite Welsh Wire players.

Lee Briers

Club legend Briers signed for Warrington from St. Helens in 1997 for a fee of £65,000.

He made an instant impact at Wire, being nominated for Young Player of the Year in his first season with the club.

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Lee Briers with a young Wire fan after his last game for Wales

He made his international debut a year after, qualifying for Wales through his grandmother, and would go on to make 23 appearances in the red jersey.

His most famous performances for the national team came against Australia, 11 years apart.

Briers, alongside other world class talents Iestyn Harris and Kieron Cunningham, ripped the Kangaroos apart in the first half of a World Cup semi final in 2000.

Briers scored a try and kicked two field goals as the Welsh took the most unlikeliest of leads into half-time. They couldn’t hold on, but Briers’ personal performance at stand off introduced him on the big stage.

He brought the curtain down on his international career with a similarly eye-catching performance at Wrexham in the four nations in 2011.

His pinpoint grubber set up a try for Rhys Williams in the corner and his creativity caught Australia off-guard during the first half of what eventually ended up being a routine victory as they again ran away with it in the second half.

Briers’ status at Warrington was cemented when he lifted three challenge cups, including a man of the match performance in 2010 when he took Leeds apart with his vision and kicking game.

His career came to a cruel end in 2013 when he retired through injury, but his record of 2586 points in 425 appearances will keep a place firmly in the hearts of Wire fans.

Highlights from that World Cup game in 2000: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TUsP8GK9Y4

John Bevan

Flyer John Bevan was a major signing from rugby union in 1973.

He had already made 10 appearances for Wales and 14 for the British Lions in the other code before wining 15 Wales caps and 6 Great Britain caps in league.

He toured Australia and New Zealand with Geat Britain and played in the 1975 World Cup with Wales.

He scored 628 points in 332 appearances in the primrose and blue, mainly playing on the wing, but was also known to play at centre as he got older.

He was a firm fans favourite throughout the 70s and 80s and picked up four winners’ medals, including the 1974 challenge cup, when the Wire brushed aside Featherstone 24-9 at Wembley.

After 13 seasons with the club, Bev retired and went into teaching and coaching junior teams.

John Bevan starring for Wire in the 1980 Lancashire Cup final against Wigan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09Bm3UL4L9U

Allan Bateman

Bateman, already an established Wales rugby union international, was another big signing from the other code as Warrington sought to challenge Wigan’s dominance in the early 90s.

A classy, strong tackling centre, Bateman was an instant hit – literally – in one of the finest Wire sides in recent memory.

His performances in the backline during that period helped Wire push close to a championship victory in the 1993/94 season.

During his time in league, he picked up 13 Wales caps to add to the 35 he won in union.

He returned to union when the code turned professional in 1996, after a successful stint in Australia with Cronulla Sharks.

He would return to league – and Wilderspool – with Bridgend Blue Bulls in 2003.

Bateman reunited with ex-Wire team mate Kevin Ellis to help the side beat Carlisle Centurions in the Conference Grand Final in a curtain raiser to a super league game against Halifax.

Allan Bateman crossed for a few tries on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6WHcCUMhug

Kevin Ellis

Kevin Ellis played in the same team as Bateman for Warrington, Wales and Bridgend in the aforementioned curtain raiser.

He was held in such a high esteem by the Wire faithful that his name was chanted loudly by the south stand at the end of that game – just short of 20 years after he left the club.

Wire signed him from his hometown club Bridgend RUFC and he went on to form the half back partnership that steered Wire to the 1991 Regal Trophy and to the title push of 1993/94.

He was capped for Wales 15 times and toured Australia and New Zealand in 1991 during his league stint and, like Bateman and Jonathon Davies, returned to rugby union in 1996 when the sport turned professional.

He had spells with a few clubs, but it is his time in the primrose and blue, running rings around teams with number 7 on his back, that he will perhaps most be fondly remembered outside of Bridgend.

Kevin Ellis’ last minute winner against Salford on the opening game of the 1991-92 season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkX2bv0AlRA

Jonathan Davies

For a generation of fans, Davies will only be known as a tv commentator and pundit, but for those lucky (or old) enough to have seen him grace the Wilderspool turf, he will always be the man who spearheaded Wire’s title push in the early 90s.

Arguably one of the most talented players to every play either code of rugby, Davies was a genuine star in union before Widnes signed him for a world record fee from Llanelli.

Wire signed him in 1993 and he remains the last Warrington player to win the Man of Steel award.

Equally at home at full back, centre or stand off, the little Welsh wizard waltzed around defences like few had ever seen in the primrose and blue before.

Wire missed out on the 1994 league title on points difference (it was first past the post back then), but Davies had made his mark.

He had inspired Brian Johnson’s with his magic with ball in hand and finished the season as the club’s leading scorer with 21 tries.

His solo try against Australia for Great Britain at the end of that season is one of the most iconic in the history of the sport and Davies would go on to captain Wales in the 1995 World Cup.

Davies returned to union in 1996 when the sport turned professional and sought a move back closer to home in Cardiff when his wife tragically lost her fight with cancer in 1997.

Jonathan Davies’s tries for Warrington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXz9JHroBZQ

Iestyn Harris

Yeah all right. Calm your tits.

We know that half the people reading this will automatically break into a chant about Harris’s alleged solitary sexual habits at the mere mention of his name,

But the fact remains that he is easily one of the most talented players to every pick up a rugby ball and we got to enjoy some of his skills at Warrington.

The boy from Oldham was so similar to Davies in his early career, it was almost frightening.

Making his debut in 1993, aged just 17, Harris was as comfortable with a 6 on his back as he was a 1 and could be used at centre, such was his versatility and skill level.

He had it all – great kicking game, speed, vision, fantastic hands… he was born to play the game.

He left Warrington under a cloud – but for a world record fee which injected some much need cash into the club – and would go onto genuine greatness with Leeds Rhinos.

He switched to rugby union in 2001 for £1.5million – a year after guiding the Welsh national side to the semi finals of the rugby league World Cup.

His performances in the red jersey of Wales were probably more memorable in league, but he did play in the 2003 World Cup for the union side.

He would later return to league – characteristically controversially – and lead Bradford to world club challenge success before adding to his GB caps in the 2004 and 2005 four nations tournaments.

He pulled the primrose and blue jersey on 97 times, scoring 37 tries and kicking 182 goals during his four years at the club and earned 18 Wales caps and made 13 GB appearances.

Yes, he left under a cloud, but what a fucking talent he was.

Harris partnered Lee Briers in the halves for Wales in the 2000 World Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81ZFHhONjAI

Mike Nicholas

Name us a harder rugby player than Mike Nicholas.

Go on, we’ll wait. Milk and two sugars, yeah..?

Thought of one? Didn’t think so.

Nicholas spent eight years at Warrington, playing alongside fellow countrymen John Bevan and Bobby Wanbon in the famous 1974 challenge cup winning team. Nicholas crossed for a try in the final against Featherstone.

Having been signed from Aberavon in 1972, he epitomised the Warrington team of the 70s – he was hard, he was direct and he was brilliant.

A strong running second rower, Nicholas captained the side on many occasions and took no prisoners on the pitch – he was sent off 13 times while in a Warrington shirt.

Even his own testimonial match saw a riot erupt between his Warrington teammates and players of his old rugby union club.

One. Hard. Man.

Mike Nicholas scored in the 1974 Challenge Cup final against Featherstone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Cbf4QZzrV8

Bobby Wanbon

Wanbon, along with Nicholas and Bevan, was among the pioneers of a South Wales exodus up north to sign professional contracts with league clubs.

A bruising forward, Wanbon signed for Wire from St Helens and went on to make more than 160 appearances for Warrington during his seven year stint at Wilderspool.

He lined up in the front row in the 1974 cup final at Wembley and represented Wales in the 1975 World Cup alongside club teammates Bevan and Nicholas.

The image of Wanbon holding the challenge cup trophy in the air with a cigar in his mouth is one of the most iconic in the club’s history.

Wanbon played for Wales in the 1975 Rugby League World Championship, which saw Wales take on England at Wilderspool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM3YehzY1R4

Phil Ford

Another union convert, Ford signed for Wire in 1981 and would go onto play for Wigan, Bradford, Leeds and Salford.

He represented Great Britain 12 times and won eight caps for Wales during his league career, which finished in 1995.

He made 112 appearances for Wire, scoring 57 tries.

Phil Ford scored for GB in the famous third Ashes test in Sydney in 1988: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udgV8TgKEB8

Rhys Williams

Williams makes this list more for his exploits in the red Wales shirt than the primrose and blue one.

He is his country’s all-time leading try scorer, with 18, a decent effort considering the quality of the current national side.

He converted to league having played union in his youth in South Wales and was signed for Warrington as a talented youngster.

His Wire career never really took off and was punctuated by loans, but he managed to cross for 21 tries in 29 games – not a shoddy return at all.

Williams opened the scoring for Wales against Australia in the four nations in 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOCUswTNkmk

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