A MUCH-loved and well respected former rugby player and coach has died, Mike Latham writes.

Tommy Grainey, who has died after a long illness at the age of 75, played 164 games for Leigh between December 1961 and March 1973.

He scored 16 tries, kicked 135 goals and was given his testimonial in 1971.

Tommy also had a spell as Leigh head coach during the late 1970s before resigning from his coaching duties in 1983 and running Glass Barrel pub in Hindsford for a while.

He was well known for his partnership with close friend Kevin Ashcroft.

The pair first played together in the Leigh side under player-coach Alex Murphy in the 1960s and later formed a fine coaching team at Leigh, Salford and Warrington with Tommy often taking the role as assistant coach.

Kevin said: "I was so sad to hear the news about my old mate.

"We were close and he was like a brother to me.

"Tommy came from a large family and was one of life's characters and 100 per cent loyal- you could trust him with the Crown Jewels.

"He loved rugby league and being involved in the game.

"As a player he could play across the back line, fullback, either centre position and stand-off, but fullback was his favoured position.

"Tommy had a good pair of hands even though his fingers looked like talons as he must have broken every one of them and he could tackle anyone.

"He showed no fear on a rugby field.

"He thought he was 16 stone when in fact he was considerably less than that and he was never intimidated by anyone.

"He was a very hard player and never took a backward step."

Tommy, who was also a keen cricketer, was also regarded as a big character in the game.

Kevin added: "You had to watch him closely- he had an incredible sense of fun.

"One night at training we were going to a reception afterwards at the town hall for winning the Lancashire Cup and Tommy asked the coach if he could leave training early.

"I said 'watch him, he's up to something.'

"Sure enough, when we got back in the changing room he has taken all the laces from the players' shoes and they then had to attend the reception struggling to walk."

Tommy Grainey is survived by his wife Pat and two daughters.