by Steve Ricketts, former Chief Rugby League Writer, The Courier-Mail.
It seemed to make sense, in terms of the newspaper’s budget, when I was asked to return to Brisbane, from Auckland, after the Australian Rugby League side sealed the 1985, three Test series against New Zealand.
The Telegraph’s chief of staff at the time, Peter Howard, had to answer to Queensland Newspapers’ bean counters, so he decided there was no point in me remaining in Auckland for the third, ‘dead rubber’ Test of the series.
Australia had won the First Test, 26-20 at Brisbane’s Lang Park; and the Second Test, 10-6 at Auckland’s Carlaw Park. The Third Test also was to be played at Carlaw Park.
If it was a decider, I would stay in Auckland. Because it was a dead rubber, it was time to come home.
I wasn’t in a position to argue, given it was a privilege to travel to Auckland, as it had come down to a call between me and our rugby union writer, Wayne Smith. The Telegraph could not justify sending both of us to Auckland for the weekend, a massive weekend on many fronts, in New Zealand’s largest city.
My assignment was three pronged.
On the Friday, (June 28) I covered anti-Apartheid demonstrations, which revolved around the proposed All Blacks tour of South Africa.
On Saturday I covered the Bledisloe Cup rugby union match, between the Wallabies and All Blacks, at Eden Park.
And on Sunday, there was the league Test, to be refereed by Frenchman, Julian Rascagneres.
Well, the All Blacks won the union 10-9, and that was the wrong result. The Wallabies were the better side.
The Kangaroos won the league, and that was the wrong result. The Kiwis were the better side. I have never seen a more heart broken coach than New Zealand’s Graham Lowe, after John Ribot saved the Australians with a try on the death. It came from a forward pass, missed by Rascagneres.
Back at my motel, at Parnell, on Sunday night, I mixed with a group of people from Dunedin, who had been to both rugby Tests, and for many, it was their first taste of league. And they loved it.
The Carlaw Park match was a great spectacle, whereas, it would be kind to call the Eden Park match ‘boring’.
Anyway, come Monday morning, the Telegraph said: ‘Come home Steve’.
My flight was booked, and the first leg was to Sydney. While I was in the air, the biggest story of the Test campaign broke, with the news Australian coach, Terry Fearnley had dumped Queenslanders, Greg Conescu and Mark Murray for the Third Test, and relegated Chris Close and Greg Dowling to the bench, even though Australia had won.
I was in Sydney, when the outrage from the Queenslanders made headlines, wherever rugby league was played.
And to make matters worse, I was stuck in Sydney, because there was an airline strike, and I could not get back to Brisbane. There were no hire cars and trains and buses were fully booked, as it was school holidays.
‘Stay in Sydney and make the most of the situation’, was the order from the Chief of Staff.
I was housed at The Travelodge, Rushcutters’ Bay, where fellow guests included former British rugby league stars, Alex Murphy and Kevin Ashcroft both on the hunt for Australian players for their respective English clubs.
Alex and I dined, at the Telegraph’s expense, on more than one occasion. I picked up a couple of yarns, but nothing like the stories Barry Dick (The Courier-Mail) and David Falkenmire (Daily Sun) were sending back from Auckland.
I got out of Sydney on the Saturday, driving back to Brisbane (in a hire car) via my good mate, Brian Atherton’s place at Taree.
I don’t think Queensland Newspapers saved any money by bringing me back early, and the paper missed out on the biggest rugby league drama of the year. And the Kiwis won the Third Test 18-0. As they say. There is no such thing as a dead rubber in big time sport.
Photo: Steve Ricketts (left) with Barry Dick at Australian training, Auckland, 1985.