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Johnny Hunter

Sincere thanks to David Gronow for permission to publish the following article and photographs.

Full Back 1947-1957

There was both elation and mystification among Huddersfield followers in the early part of 1947.

Elation at the announcement that Lionel Cooper had been signed.

Mystification at the news that the move was a 'double deal' and that a full back named Johnny Hunter was to accompany Cooper to Fartown.

The query was soon to be answered.

As quoted in Hunter's souvenir brochure, the following tribute was paid by an anonymous contributor to the 'Huddersfield Examiner' Letter Bag in May 1947: May I express a personal appreciation of the brilliant display given by Fartown's Australian full back , John Hunter, against Batley?

Rarely. or perhaps never, have I seen a player with such an evident enjoyment of the game, to say nothing of a display reminiscent of Gwyn Thomas at his best.

Hunter, as proved, became one of the best full backs ever to wear the Claret and Gold and invariably the game has known.

Born in Kogarah, Sydney, on 21 July 1925, he started playing rugby as a schoolboy.

He attended St Joseph's College, Hunter Hill, New South Wales, where he played at centre for three years in the rugby union side.

Leaving high school he joined the Australian Army becoming a friend of Ray Lindwall, later to develop as one of Australia's greatest fast bowlers.

Lindwall was an accomplished full back, playing a lot of rugby league in the army and gave Hunter quite a few tips on full back play.

In 1946, his first season in the Sydney Competition, he had joined Eastern Suburbs, the same club as Lionel Cooper, improving to the extent that he was considered in line for a Test spot against the Great Britain tour side, Cooper made the Test team, unfortunately a knee injury ruined Hunter's chances.

Compensation was on the way and together with Cooper, left Australia to sign for Huddersfield on 24 February 1947, both players making their debuts in the Claret and Gold jersey against Hull Kingston Rovers on a bitter day at Craven Park on 15 March 1947 in a 0-0 draw.

An impulsive player both on attack and defence, Hunter had a great capacity to do the unexpected, enabling him to scoop up a loose ball or pluck the ball out of the air with one hand and go on a clearing run at top speed up the middle of the field - his play was hazardous, thrilling, spectacular and profitable, with opponents instructed 'whatever you do don't kick the ball to Hunter'.

During his stay at Fartown he played in two League Championship Finals, earning a winners' medal in 1948/49 as Huddersfield beat Warrington 13pts-12, and as a runner-up in 1949/50 losing 2pts-20 against Wigan, both games played at Maine Road, Manchester.

He acquired two winners medals in Yorkshire Challenge Cup Finals both played at Headingley - on 4 November 1950 as Castleford were beaten 16pts-3, again on 15 November 1952 as the Fartowners ran out 15pts-8 winners against Batley.

Hunter also received a runners-up medal as Huddersfield lost 11pts-4 against Bradford Northern on 29 October 1949, also at Leeds.

He also gained Yorkshire League winners medals in 1948/49, 1949/50 and 1951/52, as well as runners-up medals in 1947/48 and 1952/53.

Hunter, a natural ball-player, also excelled at tennis and played league cricket during his stay, his cricket clubs included Bradley Mills (Huddersfield & District League), Rochdale (Lancashire League) and Salts and Lightcliffe (Bradford League).

A Challenge Cup winners medal came his way when Huddersfield beat St Helens 15pts-10 in the Final at Wembley on 25 April 1953 - there were injuries which caused controversy, especially the one sustained by Hunter in an off-the-ball incident.

Hunter's form with Huddersfield also earned him representative honours, playing on eight occasions for the Other Nationalities side - his first coming against Wales at Abertillery on 22 October 1949, his last against France in Marseilles on 23 November 1952 - with two further matches in 1948/49 with a British Empire XIII in France and again against Wales at Llanelli on 19 May 1951.

One of the last things Hunter could have expected when he came to England was that he would eventually be the successor to Lionel Cooper on the left wing, the reason being Cooper's retirement and the emergence of Frank Dyson, Hunter ever ready with advice, encouragement and - when needed - criticism to his up and coming successor.

His final game for Huddersfield was against Warrington at Fartown on 13 April 1957, as a gesture to the Fartown crowd stripping off his jersey and throwing it to them, before returning with his family to Australia.

He played 332 games for Huddersfield, scoring 74 tries and kicking 3 goals.

If ever a player achieved cult status with a club, Hunter was that player in his time with Huddersfield.

Johnny Hunter's Fartown shirt

Previous Club: Eastern Suburbs
Huddersfield debut: 24 February 1947 v Hull Kingston Rovers
Final Huddersfield appearance: 13 April 1957 v Warrington
Appearances: 332 Tries: 74 Goals: 3 Points: 228
Honours: British Empire XIII (2), Other Nationalities (8)

Johhny Hunter's 'Other Nationalities' shirt

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