We head back to March 1997, Spice Girls top the UK Singles Chart with double “A” side Mama/Who do you think you are? Bugs Bunny and basketball star Michael Jordan team up in an unlikely pairing at the cinema for “Space Jam” and a schoolboy in Ashton-in-Makerfield prepares for his exams.
That schoolboy is 16-year-old rugby league star John Duffy. The phone goes and on the other end is a rugby league legend who tells Duffy he is set to make his senior debut for Warrington Wolves.
These are traumatic times for the Wolves with several senior players stood down and a power battle taking place in the dressing room that ultimately leads to resignation of Australian John Dorahy.
Duffy said: “I’d been training down at Warrington through pre-season with a mate of mine, Chris Highton. We did our pre-season alongside the first team and a couple of times where they wanted bodies, we jumped in and they kept us in and we did alright.
“Alex Murphy rang me and said if you are good enough, you are old enough get yourself down to training.”
That debut came and went. Another loss. This time, 18-38 against London Broncos. Richard Henare scores a hat-trick but it’s not enough against a Broncos side that eventually finishes second in Super League.
Half-time, is an interesting experience. “Murph stripped the paint off the wall. He was absolutely ruthless and you could see then why he’d been so successful throughout his career.”
Duffy’s next memory comes a few days later against Wigan.
“I remember that one, I was getting letters through my door for like four days. My primary school sent a letter, fans sent me letters and people who had coached me did too.”
By that stage Dorahy is gone. Murphy and club captain Paul Cullen are in interim charge until Daryl Van De Velde is appointed.
Warrington win a memorable game 35-24, one of only eight league wins all year. A Duffy reverse a pass sees Kelly Shelford storm to the line and outstanding Nigel Vagana scores three before the Wolves close out the game brilliantly.
The rest is history.
Duffy remained the youngest Super League debutant for several years until Scott Moore was handed his bow at St Helens and went on to play for Salford, Leigh, Chorley, Whitehaven, Widnes and Scotland.
John Duffy’s “My First Game” – Warrington Wolves 18-38 London Broncos
Warrington: Vagana; Forster, Kohe-Love, Roper, Henare; Shelford, Duffy; Mead, Roden, Chambers, Holden, Tatupu, Hulme. Substitutes used: Rudd, Currier, Finau, Mann.
London Broncos: Barwick; Roskell, Smith, Krause, Offiah; Tollett, White; Bawden, Beazley, Mestrov, Gill, Rosolen, Matterson. Substitutes used: Dunford, Best, Spencer, Maguire.