The South Queensland Crushers won a lot of friends, but not the honour of a first up win when they clashed with Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in a trial at Emerald in Central Queensland.
The Crushers, down 10-4 at halftime, lost 18-16 after young Manly winger, Shannon Nevin scrambled over for the winning try 10 minutes from the end of a match played in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 at Alan McIndoe Oval.
Lang Park based South Queensland; the Perth based Western Reds; Townsville’s North Queensland Cowboys and the Auckland Warriors were the new kids on the block in a 20 team ARL competition.
Giant former rugby union international, Garrick Morgan’s league debut for the Crushers was encouraging. He did not break the line, but took a power of getting down.
Former Australian Rugby League skipper, John Sattler was a spectator at the match (his son, Scott was playing for the Crushers) and had this to say about Morgan, the son of former league Test forward, John ‘Pogo’ Morgan.
“The right tackle could cut him in half if he doesn’t watch out,” Sattler said. “Garrick has a loose running style, which makes him open to the big hitters.”
Morgan himself acknowledged that the league boys hit a lot harder than his former union opponents, especially as they had more time to line-up the ball runners.
“The main thing I noticed was the speed of the game,” he said. “It was one of the fastest games of football I have played.”
Another union convert, Nathan Turner from Sunnybank, scored the Crushers’ first try, while Sattler, Martin Locke and St John Ellis also crossed.
Locke, Chris McKenna, Craig Weston and Darren Plowman were the best of the Crushers’ young brigade.
Crushers’ chief executive, Darryl Van de Velde had recruited Ellis and halfback, Mike Ford from the ‘old dart’, based on his experience coaching the duo at Castleford.
Ford, now coach of Bath Rugby Union where Sam Burgess is playing, said back in ’95 he had quit England because he was not getting a go in the Test side, even though he believed his form warranted it.
“They just keep picking Shaun Edwards,” Ford said.
Edwards replied that Ford was a jealous man.
“People, and particularly players, realise why he never made it to the very top, and that’s because he didn’t have enough ‘bottle’,” Edwards said at the time. “The word was, give Ford a good smack and you won’t see him for the rest of the game.
“We at Wigan feel Castleford are a much bigger danger without him because he was one of their weak links. He’s better going to some obscure team in Australia and playing for peanuts.”
North Sydney signing, Mario Fenech captained the Crushers in that first game against Manly, and said he had never been so nervous, because it was an emotional night for a new club trying to make its mark.
There was a carnival atmosphere at Emerald with league greats John Sattler, John Raper, Chris Close and local boy made good, Alan McIndoe introduced to the crowd beforehand. There was even a male streaker with a flaming paper tail.
After the match this reporter learned that Manly forward, Ian Roberts had posed nude for the magazine ‘Blue’, and the Sydney Telegraph wanted a comment from the Test forward, re rumours he was gay.
I approached Roberts, who politely replied: ‘My sexuality is my own business.’