THE 1958 Great Britain Lions Rugby League tour travels the length of Queensland leading up to the return Test match against Australia. We continue our tour diary as it might have been compiled through the eyes of team manager, Tom Mitchell.
“Things are almost at crisis point with 10 of our players injured and one under suspension and five matches remaining before the Second Test in Brisbane. That leaves just 15 fit men for our next match against Queensland. Queensland appear to have chosen a strong outfit and with Australian captain-coach, Brian Davies leading the way, we expect nothing less than a torrid encounter. June 22: GREAT BRITAIN 36 QUEENSLAND 19 at the Exhibition Grounds. You can’t coach pure speed, and fortunately we had plenty of genuine pace at our disposal for this match. The locals could not cope with the electrifying dashes of our halves, Alex Murphy and Dave Bolton; centres, Eric Ashton and Jim Challinor and wingers, Frank Carlton and Mike Sullivan. The only Queenslander who seemed capable of matching us for pace was winger, Paul Pyers who scored a wonderful individual try and saved two others with diving tackles. Our lads return to form was very welcome. They played with much more determination and really played as they do in their club football at home. But I thought Brian Davies was man of the match, but lacked support from his fellow forwards. Our switches in the direction of the attack were too much for the Queenslanders, and thanks to fullback, Eric Fraser we were often able to get the overlap. Brian McTigue showed the ball skills which have Australian critics comparing him to the great Joe Egan. JUNE 23: GREAT BRITAIN 61 CENTRAL QUEENSLAND 19 in Rockhampton. Wet weather has softened many of the previously rock hard grounds in Queensland, which is good news for our injury hit squad. Coming largely from industrial towns in the north of England, our lads found it quite a culture shock to arrive in Rockhampton in ‘Show Week’. I think it is the closest to the wild west that our lads will see in their lifetime, with cowboy hats seemingly a compulsory fashion accessory. The tackling of the Central Queenslanders was the softest we have experienced on tour to date, and our lads made ground pretty much at will after being braced for a physical encounter. Eric Fraser scored 31 points on the wing, crossing for three tries and kicking 11 goals, a personal record. Eric Ashton also scored three tries while Challinor and Mick Martyn scored two each. International halfback, Cyril Connell was the best of the CQ players and prop, Neil Teys also could hold his head high. The day after the match our lads enjoyed the warm waters of the Central Qld Coast at Yeppoon and we were heartened by the news our Welsh hooker, Tommy Harris would rejoin the squad in a couple of days after a week in hospital in Brisbane with an infected eye. JUNE 26 GREAT BRITAIN 50 WIDE BAY 25 at Bundaberg. Former Queensland players, Danny O’Connell and Ted Barnes played for Wide Bay, but they could not make up for the gulf in class between the two sides. Wide Bay fielded a powerful pack with coloured prop, Norm Meninga and fellow front rower, Lloyd Weier looking likely lads indeed. But the pace of our outstanding second rower, Dick Huddart, left the locals – players and spectators alike – with their mouths agape. Dick, from Whitehaven on the Cumberland Coast, scored three tries, showing keen anticipation when teammates made breaks. Eric Fraser scored two tries and booted seven goals to give him 51 points from his last two games. Our hooker, Alvin Ackerley suffered a dislocated knee cap, but after treatment at hospital was told he could resume training within 48 hours. While the hospitality of the locals has been outstanding, I must say that the standard of some of the hotels we have encountered on tour have not matched that cordiality. We have made arrangements to get beforehand information on places at which we are booked for the rest of the tour. We certainly won’t let the boys go into a place which does not have a favourable report. We are not asking for places like the Savoy or Plaza. We just want reasonable accommodation and food. At some hotels the rooms have been too small to accommodate two men, beds have been uncomfortable and bathing facilities inadequate. In some cases players were kept awake during the night because of trains passing the hotel. GREAT BRITAIN 78 FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND 8 in Cairns. This was a walk in park in the beautiful tropics, with our lads crossing for 18 tries, even though we played with 12 men for 60 minutes, because of more injuries. Winger, Frank Carlton scored six tries and won a trophy as our best player, while halfback, Alan Gill received the local award. FNQ five eighth, Ted Verrenkamp is well known to our lads after his extensive playing career in England, and he was primed for a big game. Unfortunately Ted’s venom led to our winger, Ike Southward spending the night in hospital with a sore jaw and a few teeth missing. Ike was dashing for what we thought would be a try when Ted crash tackled him, sending our lad to the ground head first. We have been joined on tour by BBC commentator, Eddie Waring, who is also writing a column for ‘The Courier-Mail’. GREAT BRITAIN 78 NORTH QUEENSLAND 17 in Townsville. Our final match before the Second Test was hardly ideal, as our lads were expecting a much tougher work-out. I do not wish to denigrate the local boys, but if we had kept the foot to the floor I have little doubt we would have reached 100. Eric Fraser is having a field day in Queensland. This time he landed 15 goals from 18 attempts, but the try scoring freaks were Huddart (4), Ashton (3), Martyn (3), Harris (2) and Jackson (2). Lock, Vince Karalius made a strong comeback after an enforced lay-off through suspension and injury. His passing was astray, but everything else was sound. Our five eighth, Eric Archer was fined 20 pounds for breaking our curfew while in Brisbane, but on appeal Eric has convinced me to refund him the money. Now we head to the Gold Coast to prepare for the Second Test and the chance to keep the Ashes series alive. Next week: Arguably the most amazing Test in rugby league history.