FLASHBACK: February 1996

MARK Geyer took sacked Broncos fullback, Julian O’Neill under his wing in Perth as the talented utility star looked to revitalise his career with the Western Reds in the proposed Super League competition.

Geyer, a noted league ‘bad boy’, took O’Neill as a boarder as he adapted to the Perth lifestyle and got to know his new teammates.

“I see a lot of me from a few years ago in Julian,” said Geyer. “I was in a lot of trouble, just like him. All he needed when he came to Perth was a hand.

“I went out of my way to show him he is no-one special. He’s just another bloke. You can’t keep making hurdles for yourself for the rest of your life. I’ve been through that, and he realises that.”

O’Neill was one of the stars of the Reds first trial match or 1996 – against his old club, the Broncos, landing two goals, one from the sideline, proving a fan favourite in open play as the home side went down fighting 20-12.

“It was more a fun day, with a professional element,” O’Neill said. “Alfie Langer and Kevvie Walters were giggling and going on when I was kicking goals. Sometimes its hard to be serious against them.”

Playing fullback for the Broncos was his close mate, Willie Carne,  a former Test winger who was dropped to reserve grade at one stage in 1995.

In my 2014 book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, Carne conceded he needed a wake-up call and readily accepted the challenge of playing fullback.

Geyer might have turned over a new leaf off the field, but he was his old fiery self, on the field, and was lucky not to at least receive a caution from referee, Graham Annesley after a brutal tackle on young Broncos’ forward, Shane Webcke.

Winger, Michael Hancock scored two tries for Brisbane, one from a typical block busting run from dynamic centre, Steve Renouf.

A crowd of more than 10,000 at Bassendean Oval, home of Swan Districts Aussie rules club, got their money’s worth, with both sides playing open football in heatwave conditions.

The spectators loved being so close to the action, with stands configured to make it a true ‘rugby arena’. In 1995, the Reds’ inaugural season, they played home games on the wide expanses of the WACA, too far away from the action for fans to truly appreciate the intricacies of rugby league. Unfortunately the WACA was to be their ground again in 1996.

As an advertisement for the much hyped ‘Super League’, the Bassendean trial left a bit to be desired, with jersey numbers not always aligning with the program, while some players had no number.

The entire match was played in the heat of the day, and there was no shade or cooling fans, as in the ARL’s 1995 pre-season.

No-one told the time keeper the match was in quarters instead of halves, and the first period went over time.

There were no such dramas in Toowoomba when ARL loyal teams South Queensland Crushers and Balmain met at the Athletic Oval, the Crushers winning 46-12 with Danny Peacock and Scott Lawson scoring two tries each.

But one worrying element for the Crushers was lock, Chris McKenna’s publicly stated desire to move to Super League aligned club, Cronulla, as soon as possible. Cronulla had signed him for the 1997 season, but McKenna wanted an immediate move.

“I’m going to end up there anyway, so I thought, why hang around?” said the former Bronco. “But it doesn’t worry me. If I have to stay, so be it. We have a good team.”

Former Test winger, Graham Mackay kicked four goals in his debut for the Crushers, after being cut by Sydney Roosters.

FOOTNOTE: On February 23 the Federal Court ruled emphatically in favour of the establishment ARL, so Super League was sent into hibernation, its hopes of a 1996 premiership trashed, with its eight clubs forced to continue in the ARL, while planned new clubs, the Mariners (Newcastle) and Rams (Adelaide) could not field teams at all.

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Julian O’Neill (standing) and Kevin Walters at a Queensland Origin medical.

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