FLASHBACK: September 1978


Referee, Ian Smith was spat at by a spectator and widely abused after Brisbane Rugby League premiers, Easts, defeated Redcliffe 21-16 in a major semi-final at Lang Park.

The result took Easts into the grand final, but the win was a hollow one, after Smith dismissed Redcliffe’s former New South Wales’ prop, John Barber in the fourth minute.

Redcliffe president, Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner said his club would protest if Smith was appointed to control another of their matches in 1978.

“We are not protesting because we lost,” Turner said. “We would feel the same way if we won.  But we feel the refereeing was so inconsistent, we could not tolerate it again.”

Redcliffe need not have worried. Just 24 hours later Smith announced his retirement, saying he had had enough.

“I had thought of retiring earlier,” Smith said. “But I wanted to get up my 200 first grade appearances. For that reason, I would have carried on next year. (Smith had controlled 187 first grade games).

“But after being spat on, I have had to think about my future. I don’t have to put up with that sort of treatment.”

Brisbane Referees’ Association president, Ray Wilson warned of further legal action against people who attacked officials.

“On the two occasions we have taken people to court, we have won the case,” Wilson said.

Although rugby league drew the biggest crowds of all four codes in Brisbane, there were no protective races at grounds, unlike Australian rules. Soccer’s Perry Park at Bowen Hills also had a protective race for referees.

Barber was charged with violent conduct and banned for two matches. An appeal, heard by a board headed by former Test prop, Duncan Hall, was unsuccessful. Barber indicated he would retire, but as things transpired, he played again in 1979.

Easts’ second rower, John Abbott had to be carried off after the incident with Barber. However, he was able to resume play about a minute later and proved one of the Tigers’ best.

Halves, Greg Oliphant and Steve Williams tried every trick in the book to edge the Dolphins ahead, but to no avail. (Oliphant had made his Test debut, against New Zealand, earlier in the year).

Easts’ dressing room was far from euphoric after the win, and captain-coach, Des Morris was ‘testy’ with the media.

The speed of Easts outside backs was telling, with centre, Mark Payne scoring two tries and winger, Brad Backer, one.

Redcliffe’s loss meant they had to play Valleys in the preliminary final. Test referee, Eddie Ward controlled the match and Valleys’ won 17-13. Easts went on to win a memorable grand final, 14-10, against Valleys, with Ward again the referee.

.In Sydney, Roosters Test forward, Arthur Beetson, 33, – a former Redcliffe player –  signed a two year deal with Parramatta.

Parramatta were beaten 17-11 by Manly in a rough house semi-final replay at the Sydney Cricket ground, before a record mid-week crowd of 42,678. Parramatta led 11-2 with only nine minutes left, but Manly stormed home, scoring three late tries.

Referee, Greg Hartley dismissed Parramatta’s former rugby union Test lock, Ray Price in the 35th minute and Manly’s dual international English prop, John Gray 11 minutes into the second half.

Parramatta were so incensed with Hartley’s display they asked the New South Wales Rugby League to have the result annulled, and to schedule another replay.

It wasn’t so much Price’s send-off which enraged the Eels. Television replays showed that Hartley had awarded a try to Manly halfback, Steve Martin on the seventh tackle. That took the score to 15-11 with just two minutes left.

Parramatta had to live with the result, and Manly went on to win the premiership.

Photo: Greg Oliphant

One response to “FLASHBACK: September 1978

  1. I remember walking into Lang Park’s Frank Bourke Grand Stand wearing my Valleys gear to watch that Easts v Redcliffe Major Semi. Valleys prop, Big Al McInnis, was standing outside with Valleys hooker Trevor Johnston and he quietly walked up to me and handed me free tickets for the game. The young Valleys side was gutsy in the Preliminary Final and were robbed in the Grand Final when Wally Lewis was denied a penalty try. So Easts can consider themselves twice lucky with referees to have been crowned Premiers that year!

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