June 1974-May 1975
Roy Francis was a fine rugby league but as a coach he was revolutionary. The proud Welshman from Brynmawr played just over 350 first-class game, predominantly as a free-scoring winger, enjoying great success with four out of five clubs he served who tempted him north in November 1963 but released him three years later, after a dozen games in which he crossed the whitewash nine times.
He entered the wartime competition with Barrow, but it was while guesting for Eddie Waring's Dewsbury that he won the bulk of his domestic honours. He scored tries in three consecutive Championship finals as he men from Crown Flatt defeated Bradford and Halifax but lost out to Wigan in 1944. Added to that, he registered the only two touchdowns of the Yorkshire Cup Final of 1942, which brought him further glory. International recognition followed post-war, with 5 caps for Wales and a sole Great Britain appearance, in the deciding third Test against the touring Kiwis in 1947 - his brace of tried instrumental in a 25-9 win in front of 42,500 delirious fans at Odsal. His next stop was Wilderspool and another appearance and try in a Championship final, as Warrington were just edged out by Huddersfield in front of a huge crowd.
The perfect foil for the code's most prolific winger, Brian Bevan, he maintained his near try-a-game average there before accepting the job of player-coach at Hill and finding his true metier. Always one to identify and play to strengths, he built a formidable team at the Boulevard, based around a magnificent pack primed to new levels of fitness. Nine finals in as many years, although seven ended in heart-wrenching defeat, represented a golden age fir the club, his sides playing with incredible consistency.
An offer to take charge at a declining Leeds was a challenge he could not resist and although the work ethic was the same, the resources available and style adopted were complete opposites. Intent on grooming quality youngsters 0 and the crop available to him was as good as at any time at Headingley history - he was passionately commuted to a style of open football that exemplified the ethos of defence through attack. It took three mediocre seasons for charges such as Syd Hynes, Mick Shoebottom, Barry Seabourne and Ray Batten to blossom, augmented by some astute signings to give the squad balance and experience. Men like Harry Poole, Allen Lockwood, Mick Clark and Bev Risman enjoyed a rejuvenated lease of life under his tutelage and when the sum of the parts became the whole, the results were devastating.
Whereas Hull has been a nearly men team, the Loiners swept all before them playing a magnificent brand of flowing football made for the new limited tackle rule that was built around keeping the ball alive and the game entertaining. The culmination came in the 1967-68 season, with a second consecutive League Leaders' Trophy aided by a club record-equalling 18-match unbeaten run, the Yorkshire League Championship and the Challenge Cup, won in the most dramatic of waterlogged circumstances as Wembley. His most memorable moment as a coach came in the semi-final when Wigan were trounced at Station Road, as his vision of 'total football' reached its zenith. He said of the performance, 'Our last try crystallised everything I'd striven for - perfection on a football field. Barry Seabourne scored from around half-way with five colleagues in support and not an opponent in sight.' Lured to Australia straight afterwards, he dramatically improved the displays of North Sydney and was feted by his peers for his vision and innovation without ever really settling in the country. A second spell back at Headingley saw his side add the inaugural Premiership to his list of achievements in 1974-75, before he moved to spend a couple of seasons rebuilding the fortunes of Bradford Northern. Those who flourished under his guidance and revelled in the freedom and unorthodoxy of his approach spoke reverentially of his influence. For Alan Smith "Fraincis' training methods were awesome, far in advance of any other team in the country, and stood everyone in good stead. But Roy was much more than that - he was a psychologist, an expert, who moulded his own perfect team." Perhaps the most prodigious talent he unearthed and inspired John Holmes. "He's train his players very hard and then buy you the first pint after the game. He nurtured a fabulous back division which swept Leeds to trophy after trophy in some style."
A superb motivator and man-manager, Francis was widely acknowledged as the greatest coach and thinker in the sport in the modern era.