FLASHBACK: December 1985

English clubs went on a shopping spree for rugby union talent, with the key signings Terry Holmes (to Bradford Northern from Wales) and South Africians, Ray Mordt and Rob Louw (to Wigan).

But the cashed up Pommies failed in their bids to lure South Africans, Naas Botha and Danie Gerber to the 13 man code.

Holmes lasted just 13 minutes in his debut, dislocating his shoulder making a tackle in an 8-0 loss to Swinton at Station Road.

That was the only match Holmes played that season and injuries would plague him for the rest of his league career and he reluctantly retired in 1987, after playing just 32 top flight league matches.

I saw him play for Bradford against the 1986 Kangaroos at a fog shrouded Odsal Stadium, and there’s no doubt he was a class act.

But that night the star of the show was Australian skipper, Wally Lewis, who seemingly went out of his way to show the large press contingent – many of them rugby union writers – he was indeed the best rugby player in the world.

Lewis had been to the UK as a union player – with the Australian Schoolboys in 1977 – but a dislocated shoulder limited his appearances.

Louw and another South African, Nick Du Toit came off the bench for Wigan against the ’86 Roos, and performed very well. Maybe it was the sight of the green and gold jerseys of the Australians! Afterall, in rugby union it is the Springboks who wear green and gold.

In fact, in 1963 when South Africa made its only rugby league tour of Australia, the home side wore the old blue and maroon jersey of the first Kangaroos.

Also in December, 1985, legendary centre, Steve Rogers returned to Australia and hung up the boots after breaking his leg playing for Cheshire club, Widnes.

My good mate, Eric Hughes, a proud Widnesian, had befriended Rogers and gave wonderful moral and physical support as Steve recuperated. The 1985 season had started disastrously for Cronulla star, Rogers, whose jaw was broken by a vicious off-the-ball, stiff arm from Canterbury hooker, Mark Bugden in a Saturday match at Belmore Oval.

I was covering the Sheffield Shield Cricket final for The (Brisbane) Telegraph, but, on my day off  (there was no Sunday Telegraph) I decided to get a taste of my first love – league – and headed out to Belmore.

I clearly saw the Bugden late shot, and it made me feel sick in the stomach.

I had played (for Murwillumbah Brothers) against Steve when he was 17 and lining up for the Gold Coast Tigers in his first season of A grade league, and to see his career ‘finish’ in such a fashion was so sad.


Terry Holmes helped from the Swinton pitch by trainer, Ronnie Barritt. (Photo courtesy of Varley Picture Agencies)

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