LEIGH legend John Woods remembers the impact John Mantle, who has died this week at the age of 76, had on him as a rookie professional.

As player-coach, Welshman Mantle led Leigh to the second division championship in what was only Woods' second campaign in the first team.

"John was a great bloke and had an aura about him, with his experience at club and international level," said Woods of the former Great Britain, Wales, St Helens and Salford forward, who came to Leigh in the summer of 1977 with a big rebuilding job to do in his first senior coaching role.

READ: Mantle's career as a Saint

"He was a big disciplinarian but was very fair and I listened to him, as did all the players, because he'd been there and done it.

"John was still a heck of a good player and he led from the front and set the standards.

"He was well liked and respected by everyone. After a great playing career he wanted to prove himself as a coach and he certainly proved it to me."

Woods scored 16 tries and kicked 140 goals for Leigh in that memorable season, joining the elite band of players to play and score in each of his club's matches during a season, only the fifth player to achieve that feat.

When rugby union convert Mantle arrived at Hilton Park Leigh had just been relegated after one season in the top flight.

And after a disastrous turn of events around Christmas they had lost 16 of their previous 19 games.

Though in his mid 30s he led from the front, playing prop forward and setting high standards on and off the field.

Leigh romped to the second division championship, secured by a thrilling 12-9 win over Barrow in the final game when popular fullback, the late Mick Hogan and Welshman Clive Jones scored their tries before a jubilant 7,027 Hilton Park crowd.

Mike Hulme was cutting his teeth as the Leigh rugby league reporter on the Leigh Journal and Bolton Evening News when Mantle joined the club after a year at Salford and remembers him fondly.

"He was the first coach I ever dealt with and was a great help to me," said Hulme.

"He took us back up to Division One as champions in his first season and so did a great job in my book.

"John was a gentleman, quietly spoken and he couldn't have been more helpful to me as a young journalist.

"On the field he still had the qualities that earned him so many honours and he never took a backward step. He was always in the thick of the action.

"He was a hard, straight running prop with a good pair of hands. The analysis of games was in its infancy and was nowhere near as intense as it is these days, but he had a photographic memory and was a studious, deep thinker about the game.

"Being player-coach was doubly hard but John was an on-field leader and all the players that I knew took to him and he quickly won them over.

"His man-management skills were very good and he looked at it as a player would look at it. If he dropped someone he'd tell them why and showed them what they needed to do to improve."

Consolidation back in the first division was always going to be difficult and Leigh won only three league games during the first half of the campaign.

Mantle was relieved of his duties before Christmas with Tommy Grainey, one of his assistants alongside Ged Marsh and Bill Kindon, taking over.

Undeterred, Mantle resumed his playing career and went on to play for Barrow with distinction and later turned out for Keighley, Oldham, Cardiff Blue Dragons and Blackpool Borough, serving the latter two clubs also in a coaching capacity.

He won 13 Great Britain caps, played 16 times for Wales and won four Championship winner's medals and three Challenge Cup winner's medals.

He made 435 appearances for Saints, seventh in their all-time list.

An all-round sportsman he could have been a top athlete or professional footballer but after winning rugby union caps for Wales he chose rugby league, while also pursuing a noteworthy career as a highly respected school-master in St Helens after training at Loughborough Colleges.

Mantle will, quite rightly, be remembered as one of St Helens' all-time greats, signing for the club from Newport RU on Christmas Eve, 1964.

But Mantle will never be forgotten by those who knew him at Leigh.

All at Leigh Centurions pass on their condolences to his wife Lorraine, son Kelvin, daughter Janine and grandchildren Ryan and Rhys.

Obituary with thanks to Mike Latham