In 1997, the Australian Rugby League was effectively isolated from international football, with every other nation affiliated with the ‘rebel’ Super League competition.
The ARL still conducted a State of Origin series, but what were they going to do to give the famous Kangaroo brand a run around?
The only option was a match against a Rest of the World side, something that was possible because the ARL had signed overseas players in 1995 to counter Super League.
The World team was coached by former Great Britain lock, Mal Reilly, who was coach of Newcastle Knights in the ARL.
The team was made up of four Englishmen; nine New Zealanders; three Papua New Guineans and one Tongan with Adrian Lam (PNG) the skipper.
Welshman, Johnathan Davies was unavailable because of a family bereavement, while Kiwi Dave Watson also was ruled out because of suspension.
Reilly had hoped to play Watson at fullback, but instead had to move Englishman, Gary Connolly from the centres. Former England rugby union skipper, Will Carling described Connolly as the best centre, in either rugby code, in Britain.
World Centre, Craig Innes had played for the All Blacks in rugby union, but in the six years since he switched codes, had failed to make the Kiwi league side, something which astounded Australian coach, Bob Fulton, who also coached Innes at Manly-Warringah.
John Timu (another former All Black) and Ruben Wiki were incumbent Kiwi league centres in 1997.
The World side led 8-6 at halftime and it wasn’t until the 66th minute that Australia secured the result, when Steve Menzies crossed for a try. Fullback, Tim Brasher scored two tries for the Kangaroos.
The crowd of 14,927 included a large proportion of children, with the Queensland Rugby League distributing tickets to junior clubs. The disappointing attendance also was a reflection on the general disillusionment with the code, and the fact that the Brisbane public could not be convinced this would be a true contest.
In the ARL’s Optus Cup, Gold Coast Chargers’ fairytale run continued with a 22-14 win over 1996 grand finists, St George at Carrara Stadium, next to the Nerang River on the Gold Coast. The win, in front of a crowd of 10,738 was the Chargers’ third in a row and cemented their spot in the top seven.
And the Chargers did it playing with 12 men for 51 minutes after skipper, Graham Mackay was sent off by referee, Kelvin Jeffs on a kicking charge.
In the Queensland Cup, it was revealed the Taxation Department was investigating Brisbane Brothers, and there was a chance the club would be wound up because of outstanding taxes.
The drama did not affect ‘The Fighting Irish’ on the field, with fullback, Alan Anderson scoring the match winning try close to full time to give Brothers’ a 20-18 win over Port Moresby Vipers at Bray Park.
Other prominent players for Brothers were Shane Perry, Matt Fisher, Damon Keating and Paul MacBeth.
Meanwhile, fullback, James Durkin returned from a frustrating stint with Paris St Germain to claim a spot in Brisbane Broncos’ reserve grade side. Durkin, a regular in the Broncos’ reserve grade pack before being snapped up by Paris, was used only sparingly off the bench by Paris’s Australian coach, Peter Mulholland. Mulholland had not seen out the season, being replaced by Englishman, Andy Goodway.
Durkin is the son of former Rugby League Week editor, Tony Durkin.
TEAMS; Australia. Tim Brasher; Brett Dallas, Paul McGregor, Terry Hill, Robbie O’Davis; Brad Fittler (c), Geoff Toovey; Billy Moore, Gary Larson, Steve Menzies, Mark Carroll, Andrew Johns, Paul Harragon. res: Mark Coyne, John Simon, Nik Kosef, Dean Pay.
Rest of the World: Gary Connolly (Eng); Jason Robinson (Eng), Craig Innes (NZ), Phil Howlett (NZ), Marcus Bai (PNG); Tom O’Reilly (PNG), Adrian Lam (PNG) (c); Andrew Tangata-Toa (Tonga), Darren McCracken (NZ), Darren Rameka (NZ), Terry Hermansson (NZ), Lee Jackson (Eng), Jason Lowrie (NZ). res: Craig Smith (NZ), Harvey Howard (Eng), Chris Nahi (NZ), Willie McLean (NZ).
Referee: David Manson (Australia).