Wests rugby league president, Gordon Treichel predicted a third straight Brisbane premiership for the Panthers, under the coaching of former State lock, Ron Raper.
Treichel, who would go on to manage the 1986 Kangaroos in Europe, rated Raper far and away the best coach in the BRL, with Wests giving him a full time gig in 1977, almost unheard of in those days when coaches had to have day jobs to supplement their incomes.
“Few people outside our club know just how dedicated Ron is to his coaching job,” Treichel said. “There is nothing of the hit or miss method for him. He studies everything closely, and it must be spot on.”
Wests had lost some notable players by the start of the New Year, among them State reps, Greg Oliphant (Redcliffe) and John Ribot (Valleys). Dual international, Geoff Richardson had not announced his intentions at that stage, but ultimately he would retire.
Treichel said fullback, Greg ‘Slippery’ McCarthy had been desperate to move into the halves, and wanted first crack at Oliphant’s spot.
High hopes were held for Townsville prop, Bill Whitmore and under-18 graduates, Rowan Brennan and Wayne Carr. Brennan was a younger brother of Souths’ star, Mitch Brennan while Carr was a younger brother of Wests’ state lock, Norm Carr. Rowan Brennan was described by Treichel as a player in the mould of the club’s former Test centre, Alex Watson.
Meanwhile, across town at Nundah, the Norths’ Devils were looking for big things from returning master coach, Bob Bax, who, in 14 years at the top level, with Brothers, then Norths, got his sides to 14 grand finals, winning nine. His last year as a first grade coach was 1970, when the Devils were beaten by Valleys 13-11 in an amazing extra time grand final.
Norths had lost 15 players ahead of the ’76 season, and welcomed back Nick Geiger, Ralph Michaels (from Ayr), Doug Drew, Peter Clarke (Brisbane Souths) and Mick Walker (Pittsworth).
New signings included North Queensland prop, Rick Bradford (Ayr), Ron Cameron (Allora-Clifton), Greg McTigue (Goulburn) and Graeme Lynch (Darwin).
Former Test prop, John Sattler, who was running the Young Australian Hotel in Gladstone, sent down two local boys – five eighth, John Doyle and prop, David Hughes.
Norths had finished last in 1976 under the coaching of former British Test halfback, Tommy Bishop.