Jim Mills was a fearsome prop, one of the best of his generation and was sent off 20 times during his playing days.
Now 74, Welshman “Big Jim” still lives in the north having followed the path of many of his countrymen in moving from rugby union to turn professional in rugby league.
He was scouted by Halifax while playing union for Cardiff RFC at the age of 18 and was offered a £4,000 signing-on fee for joining the club – a house in the Yorkshire town around that time would cost £1,200.
His first game would be against Warrington in 1965, kickstarting a career in the 13-man game which would take in spells at Salford, Bradford, North Sydney, Widnes and Workington.
“The first thing I remember from the game, I was just learning the game and there was a Welshman in the Warrington side called Charlie Winslade, and I didn’t know at the time, he could have been a Scotsman for all I knew.
“I thought what I’ll do today is I’ll take the ball in, not do any passing, just run.
“I took this ball and I thought he looks like hell, so I thought I’d run at him.
“I thought I’d hit the rock of Gibraltar!
“He hit me with his shoulder and it was like one of them cartoons where you run into a brick wall.
“He became a good friend of mine and he’s a real tough, passing forward and he used to tie that shoulder, which would be illegal now of course, and I just ran straight into it.
“He was a real toughy, he put Vince Karalius away twice so he wasn’t tough.”
It was during his two spells at Widnes that Mills made his name, winning two Challenge Cup finals, and he is a member of the club’s Hall of Fame.
He would go on to own a nightclub in the town and also become club chairman, during which team the club were controversially excluded from Super League despite Mills himself announcing it at the then Naughton Park having been told by Maurice Lindsay they were in.
Mills, born in Cwmbach, made six appearances for Great Britain and played for Wales in the 1975 World Cup, where he was infamously sent off for stamping on John Greengrass’ head against New Zealand, an act which saw him banned for the rest of the season.
His son David would also go on to play for Widnes, and also Harlequins, Hull KR, Leigh, Swinton and North Wales.
Though fond of his memories in rugby league, Mills has previously admitted a tinge of regret in leaving rugby union as early as he did, thinking that he could have represented Wales internationally in the 15-man game before later turning professional.
Mills added: “People don’t realise you come from rugby union where you’re brought up doing line outs and all that. You’ve come into a completely different game and it’s another learning thing.
“Some people learn quicker than others. You have people who say ‘oh he’s not doing too well’ but you’ve got to understand it’s a different game altogether.”
Despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to get the Halifax line-ups from Mills’ first game which means in theory his first game could have been either of the below.
Jim Mills’ “My First Game” – Warrington 10 Halifax 16 – September 18, 1965
Warrington scorers: Jeff Bootle, Parry Gordon. Goals: Jeff Bootle x3
Line-up: Tommy Conroy; Jeff Bootle, Joe Pickavance, Jackie Melling, Bobby Greenough; Willie Aspinall, Parry Gordon; Bill Payne, Fred Hill, Alastair Brindle, Charlie Winslade, Henry Delooze, Bill Hayes, Phil Jones
Halifax 2 Warrington 7 – November 20, 1965
Warrington scorer: Joe Pickavance. Goals: Jeff Bootle x2
Line-up: Tommy Conroy; Jeff Bootle, Joe Pickavance, Jackie Melling, Brian Glover; Willie Aspinall, Parry Gordon; John Tembey, Geoffrey Oakes, Charlie Winslade, Ray Clark, Keith Ashcroft, Bill Hayes, Bill Payne