Mario Fenech quit the South Queensland Crushers, saying his relationship with coach, Bob Lindner had broken down irretrievably as far as back as round 2 in the 1995 ARL Premiership, the club’s inaugural season.
Fenech returned to Sydney and indicated he would retire from the game. He said he had ‘personality issues’ with Lindner from ‘the word go’.
“You don’t have to be too smart to realise, that after he took the captaincy off me in round 2 (handing it to Trevor Gillmeister), our relationship could not be repaired,” Fenech told me. “It was obvious I wasn’t part of Bob’s plans. As a coach, I believe he was thrown in at the deep end.
“I’m still coming to grips with the likelihood I have played my last game. It’s disappointing to finish on this note. I have always been passionate about my rugby league, and it’s been a great adventure for me.”
Fenech missed seven weeks of the 1995 premiership because of a broken collar bone.
Fenech’s decision to quit the Crushers came after he negotiated a partial pay-out of his 1996 deal with the club.
He played 275 first grade games in a distinguished career, first at South Sydney (he was Dally M captain of the year in 1989), then North Sydney, and finally the Crushers.
It was in round 2, 1995, against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium that Fenech reluctantly entered rugby league folklore when he was hit on the head by a stray pass from dummy half (Ray Herring, I think) as he walked towards the blindside of the ruck.
Fenech had been known as ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (he is of Maltese heritage) and the unwitting ‘football to the head’ scenario is now known as a ‘falcon’, and transcends rugby league.
I covered that match for ‘The Courier-Mail’ and the Crushers were poor across the park, in attack, although they defended courageously. It was a low standard game, and everyone in the press box thought Mario’s ‘falcon’ pretty much summed up the night.
I first interviewed Fenech on the 1986 Kangaroo tour of England when he played for Bradford Northern against the Australians. I always found him to be polite, generous with his time and truthful. He was also my mum’s favourite player.
In 1995 I was also close to Bob Lindner, as ghost writer for his column in ‘The Courier-Mail’.
Like Fenech, I believe Lindner was thrown to the wolves, and the club would have been better off sticking with their original choice, Bill Gardner, who they recruited when he was coaching Sheffield in England.
The bottom line was that the Crushers wanted a high profile coach. It was also the case that the club’s chief executive, Darryl Van de Velde wanted to get back into coaching, and deep down felt he could step into Lindner’s shoes, if things didn’t work out.
At the same time as Fenech was effectively announcing his retirement, Van de Velde was telling staff at the Crushers that he was quitting, to return to England to resume his coaching career.