Lee Briers: Warrington Legend Retires

“I feel privileged to have played for so long. Unfortunately it has come to an end but it was going to one day and the doctor took that out of my hands.”

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Those were the sad words from Rugby League icon Lee Briers on Friday evening, having been forced to retire due to ongoing difficulties with a neck injury picked up earlier on in the Wolves’ latest Super League campaign. The Warrington Stand-off had recently signed a new one year contract extension, but the injury brings an end to the Welshman’s illustrious career.

Having joined Warrington from St Helens in 1997, Briers enjoyed 17 seasons with the Wolves, becoming their record points scorer with 2,586 points in 425 appearances. He won 3 Challenge Cups (Including Lance Todd trophy winner in 2010), the League Leaders Shield in 2011, made 2 Super League Grand Final appearances as well as making 23 caps for Wales. Perhaps his only disappointment looking back will be a solitary Great Britain appearance to his name after the ‘Briers for Britain’ campaign never really took off.

No matter which team you follow, Briers will be missed by the Rugby League community. His skill, creativity and passion for his club were what made him stand out. When Lee Briers was on top form, he was like a magician. His kicking game, his passing game, always thinking 2 or 3 plays ahead. Throughout his time at Warrington when Lee didn’t play, it was evident. Even in his last season he was sorely missed when absent, with that spark or flair of creativity being lost without him. When the team news was announced he was always the first name I checked for because his importance to the Warrington team was huge. His personality will be missed also, constantly driving the team whilst having a tongue-in-cheek character that would wind the opposition and referees up (Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir).

Whilst looking back on his career there are many highlights. The 18-17 victory of Leeds Rhinos in 2006 to earn Warrington their first ever play-off win comes to mind. Briers ran the show that night, and cancelled out Kevin Sinfield’s drop goal with one of his own on the 70th minute to take the scores to 17-17. Then in the 79th minute, Briers landed another drop goal 40 metres out to secure the victory for the Wolves.

Briers’s drop goal record was the most prolific of any kicker in the modern era, although it was mainly in the early part of his career in which he was kicking them for fun. He holds the record for the most drop goals in a game (5) against Halifax in 2002. Right till the end of his career the drop goal king was rescuing the Wolves, with a last gasp drop goal again Wigan in February 2013 securing a 17-17 score.

Lee also played an instrumental role in guiding Warrington to their first Challenge Cup in 35 years, with a 25-16 victory of Huddersfield Giants at Wembley in 2009. Further Challenge Cup successes followed in 2010 and 2012, with Briers being awarded the Lance Todd trophy in the 30-6 Final win over Leeds Rhinos for an outstanding Man of the Match performance.

A victory in a Grand Final would have topped off a sensational career for Lee, but unfortunately for him the Wolves couldn’t conjure up a victory in the 2012 or 2013 finals. Briers will continue to be around the Warrington Wolves, working in a coaching role alongside Tony Smith. The biggest challenge now for Warrington will be filling the void left by an irreplaceable talent, as their quest for that first Grand Final victory just became a lot more difficult. Will Stefan Ratchford be asked to step up? Or will Smith look to strengthen from elsewhere? Either way… There’s only one Lee Briers.

Notes:

– Lee’s Autobiography ‘Off the Cuff’ is available now.

– It will be interesting to see how the club recognises Lee’s time and contribution at the club. Whatever happens, he will be sorely missed and not forgotten.

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