This weekend, Trinity lost another of its 1960s heroes with the passing of former scrum half, Joe Bonnar, aged 68.
Hailing from Cumberland, Joe, a popular scrum half, gave Trinity seven years service through the late 1960s and early 1970s and was regular attendee at the club’s recent past player functions.
Born in 1948, Joe hailed from Whitehaven in Cumberland (as it was termed then) and played his junior rugby league at Hensingham before joining the Whitehaven club. He made his debut as a seventeen year old in 1966, playing a total of thirty six games in the chocolate, yellow and blue shirt over the next eighteen months. Whilst at Whitehaven, he made his Cumberland debut in October 1967 at Castleford in a 23-34 loss to Yorkshire.
In January 1968 a Trinity deputation were sent to Cumberland to watch the Whitehaven second row forward, Matt McLeod, who they duly signed, but they also noticed a 19 year old scrum half, Joe Bonnar. The following week, he also joined the Belle Vue ranks for £3,250 and made his debut in the league game against Hull at the Boulevard on 20th January 1968, Trinity winning 20-8. He later stated he had fond memories of his debut as the Trinity side, the present league champions, included five future Hall of Famers in Neil Fox, Ian Brooke, Harold Poynton, Don Fox and Bob Haigh. Joe partnered captain, Poynton, at half back. He scored his first try in the cup win at Barrow a few weeks later before injury forced him to miss three games. He was back for the cup quarter final clash with Castleford and the semi finals against Huddersfield before ankle injuries ruled him out of the most important games of the season, the 1968 ‘Watersplash’ Challenge Cup Final against Leeds, and the Championship Final against Hull KR, when Trinity retained the trophy. In his first season he had played twelve games with the one try scored.
The following season, he established himself as Trinity’s number one scrum half until a leg injury ruled him out for two months and Ray Owen took over the scrum half role. Once back in the side he produced some man of the match performances, which also saw him score five tries in five games over the Christmas period. Trinity reached another Challenge Cup semi final but a loss to Castleford also saw another injury for Joe, missing the next month and he finished with twenty seven games, scoring nine tries for the season.
Injuries affected Joe’s next few years and he only played thirty six games in the next three seasons. In August 1972, Joe was fully fit again and started a half back partnership with David Topliss that saw Trinity through a successful couple of seasons, with Joe playing sixty six times, Trinity reaching fifth and seventh in the league, two Yorkshire Cup Finals and a Championship semi final. Joe’s early career form was recaptured but Leeds (1973) and Hull KR (1974) won the Yorkshire Cup Finals. He was in inspirational form as champions, Featherstone, were defeated in the 1974 play offs but Warrington prevented a final appearance with a 12-7 semi final win.
Injuries returned for Joe in 1974 with a back injury ruling him out for many weeks. Kevin Harkin, Terry Langton and the signing of Terry Hudson also put pressure on Joe’s number seven shirt and he played his last Trinity game in the last match of the 1974-75 season in a 7-35 hammering at Castleford in the Premiership Trophy.
In the off-season he was transferred to Halifax but again injuries hampered his appearances and he only played five games before retiring in 1976 through injury. Joe also had a five year representative career having represented Cumberland / Cumbria between 1967 and 1973 in the county championships against Lancashire and Yorkshire, again injuries forcing him to miss many games.
In his time at Trinity he gained a reputation of being a tough, ‘nuggety’ scrum half who often tackled well above his weight covering out wide. He formed fine half back partnerships with Harold Poynton and David Topliss and only injuries prevented more than his 160 appearances in his seven and a half seasons. He scored thirty two tries and he earned a heritage number of 743.
Off the field he worked as a coal miner and the mines rescue team, a plumber and a publican, running ‘The George’ in Dewsbury and was a keen golfer before retiring to care for his wife, Carol. He was also a regular attender at many local rugby league functions as well as recent Trinity past player evenings.Our thoughts are with Joe’s family and friends at this time.