Final contenders revealed in search for Wembley hero

Monday, 09, July, 2012

The RFL has revealed the final shortlist of Rugby League legends who are in contention for selection as the subject of the statue that will celebrate the sport’s long association with Wembley Stadium.

Rugby League is the second sport to be recognised at Wembley, with football legend Bobby Moore the only other work of public art at the stadium, and some of the greatest names in British sporting history have been identified in an exhaustive search which began last November.

After a public vote, a long list of contenders was considered by a series of specially-convened selection panels comprising fans, Rugby League journalists, coaches, players, national newspaper editors and MPs to produce a six-strong shortlist as follows:

• Billy Boston

• Eric Ashton

• Martin Offiah

• Gus Risman

• Alex Murphy

• Group representation

The RFL is now inviting the public to give their views on which of the above should be the subject of the statue before the governing body’s independent Board of Directors makes the final decision at the end of July. Once the subject has been identified, the sculpture will be commissioned with a view to unveiling it at Wembley before the Rugby League World Cup 2013 semi-final double-header at the stadium next November.

Rugby League has been associated with Wembley for over 80 years with the first Challenge Cup final played at the stadium in 1929. Since then some of the sport’s greatest moments have taken place on the hallowed turf, including Martin Offiah’s stunning length-of-the-field dash in 1994 which remains etched into the minds of all who witnessed it.

Offiah is understandably elated at making the final five. He said: “It’s such an honour to make the shortlist. There were so many phenomenal players in the reckoning and to have been chosen ahead of them feels very special.

“What an honour it would be to sit alongside the footballing legend Bobby Moore but if I’m not chosen I’d be proud of the statue whatever the result.

“Wembley Stadium is synonymous with the sport and it’s right we should be able to celebrate all that is great about our sport there.”

Alex Murphy captained three different sides at the iconic venue and has an unbeaten record at the stadium as both player and coach. Murphy is honoured to even be considered for the Rugby League statue at Wembley.

“I am very humbled to be in the same list as Risman, Boston, Ashton and Offiah and to even be considered for the statue at Wembley is a great honour,” said Murphy.

“It is a special venue for me and some of my greatest Rugby League memories have taken place at Wembley. I have been lucky enough to play on the famous Wembley turf more than once and even more fortunate to have never lost at the venue.

“A match at Wembley is the most important in a player’s career, no matter what nationality, you always dream of playing at Wembley. So to have a statue representing the history of Rugby League at the stadium is a great accolade for the sport.”

The RFL would like Rugby League supporters to provide feedback on the final five candidates by explaining who they think should be chosen and why, or if a group representation would better celebrate the sport.

To have your say and contribute to the final decision simply email your views to wembley.statue@rfl.uk.com by Friday July 27. All feedback will be compiled and considered by the RFL Board before they make the final decision.

To help you make your decision, video presentations for each player will be shown on The Super League Show throughout July with the first screened on BBC1 (regional) at 11.35pm. The videos will also be available on the RFL and Super League websites.

The RFL Board’s decision will be announced ahead of the Challenge Cup Final which takes place on August 25 this year.

RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood believes the search for a Wembley hero has underlined the depth of passion the sport’s supporters have for the national stadium – and for Rugby League.

“Every element of the Rugby League family has embraced this important search and on behalf of the Board I would like to thank everyone for their fantastic contribution,” said Wood.

“The calibre of candidates on the list is outstanding and the Board have a really tough decision to make. Before we do so, I hope all those people who have not yet made their views known come forward to help us deliver a statue which will make the whole sport proud.”

The contenders are as follows:

Billy Boston

Billy Boston was a prolific try-scorer during his career with Wigan and Blackpool Borough, the Welsh flier lit up Wembley on six occasions, winning three Challenge Cups. A member of the RL Hall of Fame, Boston scored 478 tries in 485 games for Wigan.

Eric Ashton

Eric Ashton was the first person to win the Challenge Cup as a captain, coach and chairman, Ashton spent his entire playing career at Wigan, scoring 231 tries and 448 goals in 497 appearances. Three Challenge Cup victories, an Ashes success and a World Cup triumph ensured he cemented his reputation as one of the greatest players in Rugby League history.

Martin Offiah

‘Chariots’ is already celebrated at Wembley with a bar named after him in recognition of the wonder try he scored in the 1994 Challenge Cup final against Leeds, when he brought the stadium to its feet on an 80-metre run. He won four Challenge Cup finals with Wigan and represented Great Britain on 33 occasions.

Gus Risman

Gus Risman spent 27 seasons involved in the sport, steered his beloved Workington Town to victory in the Championship in 1951 and to a famous Challenge Cup victory at Wembley in 1952, becoming the oldest ever Cup winner at the age of 41. During a career with Salford, Workington and Batley, he established career records which place him second in terms of all-time appearances with 873, third in terms of points scored with 4,052 and fifth in terms of goal kicked with 1,678.

Alex Murphy

Alex Murphy captained three different clubs at Wembley – St Helens, Leigh and Warrington – and is still held in high esteem by fans of all three clubs. A precocious talent, Murphy was outstanding in a Great Britain jersey, for which he collected 27 caps.

Group representation

The sixth option is a group representation which could involve all the five players above or an artistic interpretation which captures the spirit of Rugby League at Wembley.