Tributes to former Wakefield Trinity, Castleford, Normanton and Leeds rugby league player John Burke

John Burke
John Burke

A former Wakefield Trinity player who had a reputation as one of the “baddest men in rugby league” has died.

John Burke, of Durkar, was only at the club for a year in the late 1970s, but the strong number eight became a fan’s favourite and was affectionately called Big John.

The former St Austin’s School pupil began his career as a youngster at Normanton and joined Leeds in 1964, age 16.

He played for Keighley and in Australia before joining Castleford in 1978.

He moved to Trinity in the same year, but had to miss his first two games after being sent off.

Friend and former teammate Les Sheard said: “John arrived at Belle Vue with something of a reputation. Indeed he had already been sent off on 20 occasions and, in the public eye, vied with Jim Mills of Widnes as the ‘baddest man in Rugby League’.

“Sure enough on his debut at Hull K.R he received his marching orders in the first half. I still remember sitting in the dug-out with my head in my hands and feeling a sense of despondency.

“Dramatically, after serving his suspension John was never again the beneficiary of an early bath.”

Mr Burke won Trinity Supporter’s Player of the Year for 1978-79 and got a late call up to the Great Britain tour squad before hanging up his boots.

The retired plumber died on Sunday and his funeral will be held next Friday.

For more tributes see this week’s Express.