Ellery Hanley

Ellery Hanley MBE (born 27 March 1961 in Leeds) is an English former rugby league player and is now the head coach of National League Two Club Doncaster RLFC. As a player he played most of his games at stand-off and loose forward. 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.

Club career

Bradford Northern

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

In the 1981-82, Bradford made it to the Yorkshire Cup final. They lost the match 18-7 to Castleford, with Hanley scoring a goal for Bradford.

In 1984-85, his final season with the club, Hanley became the first man to score more than 50 tries in a season since Billy Boston and the first non-winger to reach this figure for 70 years. 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. 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.


In 1985 he signed for Wigan for a fee of £150,000, with Steve Donlan and Phil Ford moving to Bradford in exchange for Hanley as part of the deal that saw him move to Wigan. In his Wigan debut, the opposing side had the misfortune of losing two players with broken legs and they on to win the game to Widnes, Ellery however did not make the scoresheet. But Hanley's Wigan career was soon looking brighter, as he began scoring tries for Wigan and he finished his first season for the club with 35 tries.

During his second season at Wigan he scored an unbelievable 63 tries playing at centre, stand-off and loose forward, an all-time record for a non-winger. 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.

In 1988 Hanley was in dispute with the Wigan club 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 Challenge Cup against Salford, 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. 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. Ironically it was set up by Joe Lydon - reminiscent of the two Tries he scored against Wigan 4 years earlier. Ray French claimed it was the second greatest ever seen in a final.

In 1989, Hanley helped the club reach the Challenge Cup Final. He helped guide his side to 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. 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. 1989 was arguably Ellery Hanley's finest ever year as a rugby league footballer. Looking back at the period where he was dubbed the best rugby league player in the world, 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."

He lead 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. Many believe Hanley had the character to become one of the icons of sporting history but shunned the spotlight. That said , in Wigan Hanley is regarded as the finest player of the 20th century and in 2007 was inducted into the Hall Of Fame.

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. 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)

Hanley was lured to Australia in 1988 to sign for the Balmain Tigers in the New South Wales Rugby League premiership competition. 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 proved to be the difference setting 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 blatantly illegal elbow to the head 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. 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."

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

In 1989, Hanley moved from Balmain to the Wests. 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 Golden Boot, which was awarded to the world’s most outstanding player.


At the age of 30, he joined Leeds in September 1991 for £250,000 as a player and coach. 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.

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)

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."

Representative career

Great Britain

He made his Great Britain debut as a substitute, whilst still a Bradford Northern player, in January 1984 against the French national rugby league team 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.

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

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 Rugby League Football Club as the successor to Shaun McRae. In his first season as coach, he managed to lead his side to the Super League Grand Final. His side successfully defeated the Bradford Bulls, 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 sacking as the manager of St Helens Rugby League Football Club 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 Tigers in 2004. He worked with the Tigers for just two months before leaving.

On 14th December 2007 Hanley was unveiled as the coach of National League Two Club Doncaster RLFC. He resigned from that rolé on September 28th 2008, following Doncasters 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.

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