Rugby League Grand finals are always memorable, win or lose.
After winning both my grand finals in the under-18 grade – in 1968 and ’70 – it was almost as if I had a God given right to win on that big day in September.
Not so, in my one and only senior grand final, in 1973.
In fact, it was a tragic day all round for my club, Murwillumbah Brothers.
We had looked so good, accounting for fellow Murwillumbah club, Old Boys in the knock-out semi, and Tweed All Blacks in the preliminary final. (Old Boys included former internationals, Peter Dimond and Ron Saddler in their ranks).
Our opponents in the season decider were Tweed Heads Seagulls, whose captain-coach was Tamworth product, Tom Searle, a New South Wales Country rep., who had played for Keighley in England.
We had a non-playing coach, local real estate agent, Peter Smith, who was a fine first grader for Brothers in the 1960s. Peter had taken over from English captain-coach, Brian Atherton, mid-season, after a player revolt.
Brian had done nothing wrong. In fact he was diligent, and passionate about the job.
But he was not cut out to be a coach. Firstly, his communications skills were lacking, with his broad Widnes (Cheshire) accent proving too much for most of our lads, particularly as he spoke so softly.
And, in his first ever role as a coach, his football suffered and he was struggling to keep his place in first grade. Our committee hadn’t really done their homework. Brothers had an English coach (Bert Holcroft) in 1961 and ’62, and won the premierships both years, so they thought they would be on a winner with another Pom. (My late father, Jon, was treasurer in 1961).
Anyway, come grand final day, Peter Smith is our coach, and Brian Atherton is experts comments man for Radio 2MW, alongside Wayne Johnson. I’m not sure who was the interpreter.
The ‘Tweed’ grand final is a big deal, with ‘The Courier-Mail’ sending experienced reporter, Lawrie Kavanagh to cover the match. The crowd was around 5,000, which is about all Stan Sercombe Oval could hold.
Things were tight early, but, after just 10 minutes, we (Brothers) lost our fullback, Brian ‘Tussles’ Alexander to a broken back, the result of a spear tackle. The game was held up for 10 minutes, and Brian’s wife and father-in-law raced onto the field.
Everyone was in shock. Suffice to say, we didn’t play well after that, and Seagulls ran away with the match.
I had to go to work that night, at ‘The Daily News’. It was a long night, but possibly not as bad as having to drown my sorrows with my devastated teammates.
Grand finals. They don’t come around very often, and pray you don’t remember them primarily because of a mate’s serious injury. (Brian Alexander made a full recovery after having his back in a brace for several months, but I don’t think he played again).
Photo: Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammates get together, to relive those glory days: (From left) Steve ‘Clark Kent’ Ricketts, Adrian ‘Champs’ Chapman, Peter ‘Johnny Be Good’ Gray and Brian ‘Tussles’ Alexander.