Vale – Cliff Watson

Born 26 April 1940, Passed Away 2 May 2018.

Rugby League lost one of its true legends when Cliff Watson passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning, May 2, aged 78.

A big and powerful front rower, Cliff was born in the London suburb of Stepney. In his late teens, he played rugby union with the Dudley Kingswinford club in Staffordshire and represented the combined Worcestershire and Herefordshire team in some county championship matches. In mid 1960, he answered an advertisement in a London paper by the St. Helens Rugby League club for big, young men to try out as forwards. He did well in the trial games and played his first match with St. Helens on 15 August 1960. His final game with the club was at home on 7 May 1971 against Leeds and during his 12 seasons with the Saints, he finished with 377 first team games and scored 57 tries.

He was a member of the 1965/66 and 1967/68 St. Helens championship winning teams, while he also played in the Saints teams which won the 1961 and 1966 Challenge Cup Finals at Wembley, both times against Wigan. From 1963 to 1971, he played 30 Tests for Great Britain. Cliff made his Test debut against Australia, in the second Test of the 1963 series, at Swinton on 9 November in Britain’s 50-12 thrashing. He also played in the third Test at Leeds three weeks later and this time, Britain won 16-5. He finished with 14 Tests against Australia and was on the winning side six times. Cliff was a key member of both the 1966 and 1970, British touring teams to Australia and New Zealand, as well as playing in the 1968 and 1970 World Cups. He also played nine Tests against France and seven against New Zealand.

After the 1970/71 English season, Cliff, his wife Barbara and family, flew to Australia to join the Cronulla Sharks. In three seasons with Cronulla, he played 39 top grade games, including the 1973 Grand Final against Manly. This Grand Final is rated by many as the most violent of any Premiership decider in the history of the game. Along with the Cronulla half and captain, Tommy Bishop, Cliff was always prominent in this big game. A team-mate of Cliff’s in both the St. Helens and Great Britain sides, Bishop had joined Cronulla in 1970. In 1974, Cliff was captain/coach of the Wollongong club in the Illawarra competition and took them to the Grand Final. He retired after this season and coached the North Sydney Bears reserve grade team in 1979.

While he was aggressive and unforgiving when playing football, off the field Cliff was humble, kind, personable and a very devoted family man. Cliff and Barbara were married on 1 October 1960 and have lived in the Sutherland Shire for 35 years or more. They have three daughters, Gaynor, Tina and Karina and six grandchildren Jessica, Thomas, Tegan, Alec, Carly and Cameron.

Cliff’s funeral will be held at Woronora Cemetery at 12 PM, Friday 11 May.

Rest in peace, Cliff.

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