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BBC Floodlight Trophy

By Neil Dowson

The BBC2 Floodlight Trophy was quietly introduced in 1965/6.  The BBC paid £9,000 to televise eleven matches in the autumn of 1965.  The seven clubs with permanent floodlights were invited to play in the competition, Castleford, Leigh, Oldham, St Helens, Swinton, Warrington and Widnes.  The numbers were made up to eight with Leeds, who did not install floodlights until September 1966.  The matches were played on Tuesday nights with the second half being shown live on BBC2.

Warrington’s first floodlights had been “switched on” for a friendly match with Wigan on 28th September 1965.  St Helens and Leigh kicked off the competition on 5th October 1965.  Warrington played Widnes at Wilderspool a week later.  A crowd of 7,016 saw Widnes win 20-10, Brian Glover and Joe Pickavance scored tries and Jeff Bootle kicked 2 goals for Warrington.  In their second match Warrington lost away to Leigh 9-13 and so failed to qualify for the semi-finals.  Wilf Briggs was the Leigh hero, scoring three tries.

Castleford were the surprise winners of the first BBC2 Floodlight Trophy, with a 4-0 win at St Helens in the final.  Castleford won the trophy again in both of the next two seasons.  Overall Castleford won four of the fifteen finals, before the competition was dropped after the 1979 final.

The competition was used by the RFL to try out changes to the rules without interfering with the league.  The most significant of these was the introduction of the four tackle rule in 1966.  The idea, put forward by New Zealand, was not liked by the players, however the supporters loved the end to end games created and so the RFL adopted the rule in October 1966.  Another rule change trialled was that the defence retire five yards at the play the ball instead of three.

Warrington had little success in the competition, reaching the final just once in 1974/5.  In the first round Warrington defeated Swinton 10-5 at Wilderspool.  Tries from John Bevan and Billy Pickup and two goals from Derek Whitehead saw Warrington through.  In the second round New Hunslet were defeated 36-17 at Wilderspool.  Bevan (3), Dave Chisnall (2), Alan Whittle, Norman Turley and Dave Cunliffe scored tries and Turley kicked 6 goals.  Warrington were drawn at home again in the semi-final, this time Leigh were demolished 32-0.  Bevan (2), Joe Price, Whitehead, Chisnall and Whittle were the try scorers and Turley kicked 7 goals.

The final against Salford was a drab affair that ended 0-0 at the Willows.  The replay at Wilderspool in January 1975 was a much more open affair.  The match started spectacularly with Keith Fielding finishing off a length of the field move as Salford ran out a Whitehead missed penalty.  A Richards try further extended the Salford lead to 10-2 at half-time.  In driving rain Bevan pounced on a Kevin Ashcroft kick to bring Warrington back in the match.  However try as they might Warrington could not score again and Salford deservedly won the trophy 10-5.

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