Snow blasted the Australians as they confronted the old enemy, Great Britain in the Ashes deciding Third Rugby League Test, but the lads from down under handled the conditions better than the home grown heroes, emerging 11-3 winners at Station Road, Swinton, in Lancashire.
Australian second rower, Ron Coote was man of the match, scoring one of Australia’s three tries, the others going to five eighth, Tony Branson and winger, Johnny King. Britain’s sole try scorer was Malcolm Price from Rochdale Hornets, with the legendary Roger Millward (Hull Kingston Rovers) setting up the try, after a 60 metre burst.
Australia played glorious attacking football on the straw covered pitch, and the margin would have been greater except for the courageous last ditch defence of fullback, Arthur Keegan (Hull), Britain’s player of the match.
The match was played in the most trying of conditions, with snow falling in the morning, and then clearing. It snowed again as the players took the field.
Many in the local media rated the British as favorites after a rigorous training camp at Blackpool on the Lancashire Coast. Britain were captained by Cumbrian forward, Bill Holliday.
But Australia had given notice of better times ahead with a 7-3 win over leading Yorkshire club, Bradford Northern (who fielded Australian, George Ambrum on the wing) in a stirring match just a few days before the Test.
Skipper, Johnny Raper was inspirational for the Australians in the Test and ‘The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon wrote that he thought Raper deserved to be man of the match.
Australian hooker, Noel Kelly was sent off late in the match by referee, Fred Lindop for a late, high shot on British halfback, Tommy Bishop. (There is still no love lost between this pair).
“For a deciding Test, it was fairly clean,” said Reardon. “A lot of punishment was handed out legitimately, and some by hidden methods. But penalties were evenly divided.”
The crowd of 13,515 was considered reasonable, given the freezing conditions and the fact the match was televised live on the BBC.
Australia’s starting five eighth, Johnny Gleeson suffered a broken jaw in the first half, and told Reardon he would retire from football. He was scheduled to fly home a few days after the match, missing the French section of the tour.
It was the third time on tour Gleeson had suffered a head knock.
He was concussed at Wigan, thanks to an errant knee, and he had his nose broken at Barrow, courtesy of a vicious stiff arm.
Gleeson told Reardon he would return to the family farm at Chinchilla. His brother, Joe had signed with Brisbane Brothers for the 1968 season.
Johnny flew home – a 34 hour trip in those days, with numerous stop overs – before surgery, a situation which was widely criticised by league officials and medicos in Australia. Gleeson declined to name the rival who left him with the injury.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, St George announced they had appointed legendary former skipper, Norm Provan as coach for the 1968 season, while also signing Wallaby five eighth, Phil Hawthorne for a reported $28,000.
Reardon reported from England that league true bloods, Raper, Langlands, King and Billy Smith were incensed at their club paying so much for a union player.
‘What has Hawthorne ever done to get that much money?’ was the attitude of those players, wrote Reardon. ‘He has never played league, yet he gets more just to agree to play league than we ever got for putting our best years into St George’.