ONE of the hardest Warrington men ever to play rugby league at the highest level admits he has been left totally gutted' by the death of his former teammate Mike Gregory.

Tough cookie Alan Rathbone terrorised opposition packs with his uncompromising approach for two seasons after arriving at his hometown club from Bradford Northern in 1985.

But this week former Great Britain international Rathbone felt compelled to contact Warrington Guardian to share the sadness he was feeling after learning fellow former back rower Gregory had lost his battle against illness on Monday, aged 43.

Rathbone, now living in Westbrook, reflected on the time they shared in one of Warrington's most fearsome packs, which also included notorious tough guys Les Boyd, Kevin Tamati, Bob Jackson and Carl Webb.

He said: "He was the first to welcome me when I joined Warrington and he was a world-class professional, although I missed out on some time with him on the pitch because of being suspended.

"He was a fantastic trainer and he would rally around everyone. If you were doing your own extra training, he used to come over and help you out.

"He'd always do anything for you and he was a fantastic motivator. I wish I'd had some of the skills he had "It's really sad what has happened and everyone I have spoken to feels gutted, even the new era of supporters who did not see him play but have been told all about him."

Rathbone describes himself as semi-retired now.

He added: "I'm suffering badly with arthritis from all the knocks I took. I'm keeping myself out of mischief, keeping myself to myself.

"I'm living in Westbrook with my wife and children, hoping my 18-year-old will be going into the Marines soon."

Rathbone's oldest son, Lee, aged 30, is currently registered to play amateur rugby league with Leigh East.