Derek “Rocky” Turner

One of Rugby League’s best ever forwards died six months ago. He was tough Englishman, Derek “Rocky” Turner who passed away at Wakefield on 31 July 2015, aged 82. 

Born on 18 November 1932, Rocky played rugby union as a boy and into his teens. In 1950 he signed with Hull Kingston Rovers as an 18 year old back rower and in five seasons played 141 games and scored 27 tries. For the 1955/56 English season, he joined Oldham and the next season played a key role in the club winning the championship. In four seasons at Oldham, Derek played 134 matches, scoring 35 tries. He then moved to Wakefield Trinity where, in six seasons, he played 213 games and collected 45 tries. He did begin a seventh season with Trinity, but in the opening match of the 1966/67 season, he suffered a career ending injury. Altogether in English club football, he finished with 488 first team matches and 107 tries.

With Wakefield he had plenty of success, winning seven trophies, including three Challenge Cup Finals at Wembley as Captain. These Cup Final wins were in 1960 when they beat Hull 38-5 before a crowd of 79,773; 1962 where they beat Huddersfield 12-6 in front of a crowd 81,263 and 1963 when they beat Wigan 25-10 with 84,492 watching live.

The powerful forward made his Test debut, playing lock forward in the Second Test at Bradford on 1 December 1956, when Australia won 22-9. Two weeks later, he again played lock in the Third Test at Swinton on 15 December, scoring one of Great Britain’s five tries in their 19-0 win. The locals had won the first test at Wigan, so this victory gave them the series and the Ashes.

Next he was selected in Britain’s team for the 1957 World Cup in Australia. He was also chosen for the 1958 Lions tour of Australia but had to withdraw because of injury. Back in Australia with the 1962 Ashes winning Great Britain team, he played in the First and Third Tests, with injury keeping him on the sidelines for the Second Test in Brisbane.

Perpignan on 2 December 1962 was the setting for Derek’s final Test. But it wasn’t a happy occasion as France beat Great Britain 17-12. Derek also played a Test for England against France in 1962. Derek played 11 of his 24 Tests with Great Britain while with Oldham and the other 13, as a Wakefield Trinity player.

No doubt, the English back rower is best remembered in Australia for the incident involving Australian prop, Dud Beattie in the Third Test of the 1962 series at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 14 July. In those days there were no substitutions allowed for injured players and after dislocating his shoulder, Beattie knew he would have to leave the field. Rather than leave Australia one man down, he decided to pick a fight with their best forward. The Englishman was Derek Turner and referee Darcy Lawler sent them both off. As they walked to the dressing room, an ambulance man had to step in between them, as the Englishman, realising he had been set up, was quite angry.

In 1963, Derek was signed to appear in the movie, “The Sporting Life” starring Richard Harris. Written by David Story, the movie tells the story of a professional Rugby League player, named Frank Machin, played by Richard Harris. In a scene where Machin supposedly loses three teeth after a high tackle during a match, Derek is told by the Director to make it look as realistic as possible. The result was that Richard Harris was knocked out and this meant filming was suspended for the rest of the day.
After finishing as a player, Derek coached Castleford from 1966 to 1969, then Leeds from 1969 to 1972 and finally Wakefield Trinity for almost a year from July 1983. With Castleford, he won the Challenge Cup in 1969 and with Leeds won the Championship for the 1971/72 season.

For many years, Derek and his son Darren ran a successful removal business at Ossett, near Wakefield.

During Derek’s time in the Test arena, Great Britain had some tough and talented forwards. Among these were Brian Edgar (11 Tests, three Australasian tours, died 4 October 2001 aged 66), Dick Huddart (16 Tests, first Great Britain Test forward to win a NSWRL Premiership which he did with St. George in 1966, lives on the Gold Coast aged 79), Vince Karalius (12 Tests, died 13 December 2008 aged 76), Brian McTigue, 25 Tests, died 9 December 1981 aged 51), Alan Prescott (28 Tests, died 20 September 1998 aged 71), Bill Sayer (7 Tests, died 16 August 1989 aged 55), Albert “Abe” Terry (11 Tests, still lives in St. Helens aged 81), Cliff Watson, 30 Tests, played in 1973 Grand Final with Cronulla, lives in Miranda Sydney aged 75) and John Whiteley MBE (15 Tests, still lives in Hull aged 85).

By Barry Ross. 

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