This is the final instalment of the ‘Diary’ of Tom Mitchell, manager of the 1958 Great Britain Rugby League touring side to Australia, arguably the most successful trip down under by a national team from either rugby code.
The ‘diary’ has been compiled from League records and the newspaper reports of the time. Britain had squared the Test series with an amazing 25-18 win in Brisbane, and after beating Toowoomba 36-19 had just one match to play ahead of the deciding Test in Sydney.
GREAT BRITAIN 56 d NSW NORTH COAST 15 at Lismore. Acting captain and centre, Eric Ashton had a field day at Oakes Oval, scoring four tries and kicking seven goals for an individual tally of 26 points. Eric used his noted fend to full effect and his speed was too much for the cover defence. Our forwards outweighed the local set by about two stone a man, and shook off tackles with apparent ease. Dick Huddardt, in particular, was a source of trouble for his rivals, his strength and speed always enabling him to beat at least two men. Former Queensland and Australian fullback, Ken McCrohon captained North Coast and was their most dangerous player with the ball. He also made three ankle low, try saving tackles, all on our flying winger, Frank Carlton. The crowd of 5,541 seemed appropriate for the size of the town, which is located in an area that I compare to Devon in England, with beautiful pasture country and many fine dairy herds. The hospitality of the locals was first class, with local publican, Paddy Bugden putting on a post match feast fit for a king. Our lads voted it the best of the tour, the highlight the roast pig, carved and served by a chef in regulation uniform. Some of our lads missed the speeches, but they had a good excuse. They were out the back helping the Lismore Women’s Committee with the washing and wiping up.
THIRD AND DECIDING TEST. GREAT BRITAIN 40 AUSTRALIA 17 at the SCG Our base in the lead-up to the Test was Cronulla, where the lads were treated like royalty and enjoyed early morning surfs to freshen them up after a long, demanding tour. The Australians were in camp at North Sydney and spent a day at the Hawkesbury Races as part of their team building programme. After losing the First Test, our lads bonded magnificently and the undefeated Queensland leg of the tour placed us in good stead for the challenge of our return to Sydney. Australia was boosted by the return of giant centre, Harry Wells from injury and the availability of Riverina five eighth, Greg Hawick after a one match ban. Going into the Test our injured skipper, Alan Prescott told the lads their superior pace out wide would be too much for Australia, as long as the forwards did their job. Alan also felt the Australians were too orthodox in attack to really worry us. The atmosphere at the SCG as we arrived for the Test, was electric, to say the least, with the official attendance 68,720. The fans were entertained before the match by a footballers’ sprint, which carried with it a purse of 500 pounds, a lot of money when one takes into account an average wage of 10 pounds for the man in the street. The winner was Ian Moir, who incredibly was allowed to compete even though he was playing in the Test.
The runners up were Ken Irvine from North Sydney and Moir’s South Sydney teammate, Dale Puren.
Moir did not score a try in the Test, but our wingers, Mick Sullivan and Ike Southward had a field day, with Mick scoring three times and Ike once.
Our total of 40 points was a record for an Anglo – Australian Test, and was a tribute to our magnificent teamwork under the captaincy of five eighth, Phil Jackson.
But there were great individual efforts, none better than a 30 yard try to 19-year-old halfback, Alex Murphy, who twice wriggled out of attempted tackles by Wells and then left fullback, Gordon Clifford standing in his wake.
It was a tough Test, with plenty of fire and heavy tackling, but it was good to see players from both sides swap jerseys on fulltime.
There were several incidents, and I must say the crowd put on a poor show when they pelted Queensland referee, Jack Casey with fruit peel, whole oranges and even bottles.
In particular the crowd seemed outraged that Casey did not penalise Britain after Moir kicked over the head of Southward, only to have Southward hold him back.
We thought a penalty was inevitable, and Casey even put the whistle to his lips.
But Casey allowed play to continue, and to the credit of our lads we were able to turn defence into attack with our fullback, Eric Fraser gathering the ball near his goal posts, running to halfway and then kicking downfield for Sullivan to score.
Fraser had a fine game in the open, and also kicked eight goals.
Australian captain-coach, Brian Davies, the only Queenslander in the side, was the only forward who caused us concern, and I must say that former Wallaby hooker, Ken Kearney looked well past the pace of Test rugby league, although he won the scrums 16-10 against our Welsh lad, Tommy Harris, another former union boy.
Brian McTigue and Vince Karalius were outstanding in our dominant pack, and the Australian forwards will have nightmares about the physicality of Karalius, the man they have come to call the Wild Bull of the Pampas.
Our forwards are great athletes. Once it seemed that forwards had to be big, and able to push hard in the scrums, but now pace is the key.
I would be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing on tour, and it is true that I have not always agreed with decisions made by coach, Jim Brough and fellow manager, Barney Manson.
But this did not affect the harmony among the players, who I must say, have been very loyal to me.
I also enjoyed my association with the Australian media contingent, in particular Jack Reardon from ‘The Courier-Mail’, a former Kangaroo tourist to Britain.
From here we travel to New Zealand for a nine match programme, including two Tests.
We also have agreed to play three more matches back in Australia after the Kiwi leg. Those matches will be against New South Wales Colts in Sydney; NSW Coal Fields at Maitland and Western Australia in Perth.”
The 1958 Lions lost only one of their remaining 12 games – the First Test against the Kiwis in Auckland, with the home side winning 15-10.
The Lions gate receipts were a record 78,417 pounds, and they took home a profit in excess of 40,000 pounds.
The following year Britain defended the Ashes at home.