LAST week I began a diary of the 1958 Great Britain team’s tour of Australia, as it might have been compiled through the eyes of team manager, Tom Mitchell. In those days a Lions rugby league tour was the highlight of the international football programme in Australia. No other code came close to drawing the crowds which packed into grounds from Townsville to Toowoomba and from Lismore to Leeton. The ’58 Lions started with a 36-18 win over Southern Districts in Wollongong and then were held to a shock 24-24 draw by Western Districts at Orange. Their next assignment was the powerful Newcastle combination, chosen from the Hunter Valley coal fields and the industrial port itself. ‘Tom Mitchell’ takes up the story: We were warned to expect a large, parochial crowd in Newcastle, and such was the case as westerly winds made conditions difficult for both sides. The attendance was 21,126 and there is little doubt the people of the Hunter know and love their football. Many of our players come from mining areas in the north of England and they knew it would be a physical clash. But after the spite of the recent match at Orange, things were uneventful in Newcastle and we were allowed to play football with winger, Ike Southward thrilling the locals with a 70 metre try. Ike, from my Workington Town club, was playing his first match on tour and the Newcastle fullback, Kevin Geelan will be wishing he had left his debut for another week given the ease with which our man outpaced him. Fullback, Eric Fraser kicked seven goals, including five in a row into the testing wind. The players were keen to impress coach, Jim Brough who missed the first two tour matches because of commitments in Britain. Jim arrived admist a storm of controversy over our alleged over-use of the stiff arm tackle. “What is wrong with the hip and shoulder if it is necessary to bump an opponent hard,” Jim told reporters on his arrival in Sydney. “I tell my players at Workington that their hips and shoulders are their only friends on the field.” Jim was obviously out to make new friends in the Sydney press corps. On the other hand, I have had to be blunt about the Australian method of playing the ball. In England the man marking the opponent who is playing the ball, does not interfere in any way. But in Australia players kick and hack in the play-the-ball. That is sure to breed ill feeling. We also have had to issue our players with soft innersoles for their boots because of blisters they are suffering on the hard Australian grounds. Great Britain 27 Northern Division 17. Our next match against Northern Division was a disappointment, as our forwards struggled to gain control against much lighter opponents. Leading 19-4 just after halftime, we were doing things comfortably, but then handling lapses allowed Northern back into the contest and things looked grim at 19-17. But class prevailed and our winger, Mick Sullivan finished with two tries while Ike Southward kicked six goals. It was not a great rehearsal for the first big match of the tour against Sydney at the SCG and we understand the metropolitan selectors have come up with a fine team, with 19-year-old Newtown lock, Johnny Raper the big talking point. Second rower, Jack Gibson is another interesting selection and the word around Sydney is that he is quite a character, a man who loves a bet, as do many Australians. Great Britain 20 d Sydney 15 Our forwards showed their true worth against the powerful Sydney combination with Dick Huddart, Brian Edgar, Abe Terry and Alan Prescott frequently crashing through the defence. The crowd of 48,692 loved the physical stuff and I must confess, the stiff arm tackle made a comeback with Sydney fullback, Gordon Clifford lifted in the air by one effort from Mick Sullivan.
Jack Gibson was bundled into touch by Brian Edgar and Mick Sullivan, and they gave him a bit to think about as they carried on with the tackle. Sydney centre, Harry Wells and tall forward, Norm Provan took the law into their own hands and Wells was cautioned for his involvement.
Referee, Darcy Lawler lashed our side with penalties and was particularly severe on halfback, Dave Bolton for his scrum feeds. Sydney received 17 penalties to our nine.
Our centre, Jim Challinor created two tries with his elusive running and formidable fend.
It was a morale boosting win with just two more matches before the First Test at the SCG.
But we have a major headache in regards to the playing future of winger, Frank Carlton, who has a recurring knee injury. I have asked the English League Council to send a replacement, but at this early stage of the tour they say we should work on getting the St Helens’ man right.
The Sydney hospitality has been excellent and our lads enjoyed a day at the Bronte Baths as guests of the Bronte Splashers Swimming Club.
Our lock, Johnny Whitely won a set of goblets for his part in a winning relay team.
Back in England there are proposals for two divisions next season for the 26 top clubs and it will be an agenda item at the Rugby League Council meeting in a few weeks.
Britain play Riverina and New South Wales ahead of the First Test.