by STEVE RICKETTS
NRL Premiers, Brisbane Broncos defeated North Queensland Cowboys 28-6 in a trial at Browne Park, Rockhampton, a match I covered for ‘The Courier-Mail’.
As trials go, it was a worthwhile exercise for both clubs, and a good advertisement for rugby league in Australia’s beef capital.
Both clubs went out of their way to promote the code, and there was a capacity crowd on hand, including local Catholic Bishop, Brian Heenan, who had been head priest at St Flannan’s Zillmere, our local parish. Bishop Brian sat in the media box near me, so I had to be on my best behavior.
My photographer was Dave Kapernick, a Rockhampton boy, who left his lap top at home. They delayed the flight from Brisbane for him, so you can imagine how popular we were with the other passengers. One of David’s teachers in ‘Rocky’ was Steve Parle, a noted rugby league talent scout.
At Rockhampton, there was a welcoming committee, headed by local league official, Ron Wilkinson (a butcher by trade) who was co-manager of the 1994 Kangaroos in Britain and France.
After the match, I adjourned to the Criterion pub for a few beers with stalwart Broncos’ strapper, Ken Rach and local car dealer, Michael McCorley.
Next stop was ‘The Stadium’ night club, where I caught up with top coach, Ross O’Reilly, who spoke at length about his experiences with Workington Town in England in 1996. (Not all good, I might add).
The next day, Kapernick and I were on the same flight as the Broncos, and it was a rough landing in Brisbane. Broncos’ prop, Shane Webcke was the most startled among those on board.
The big league stories from trials in New South Wales were about the North Sydney Bears (allegedly) playing-up at Wagga Wagga, while former Bronco, Julian O’Neill was making headlines following an incident at Dubbo, involving a shoe belonging to Jeremy Schloss.
Thank heavens everyone was on their best behavior in Rocky, me included!
We had a house guest at Zillmere – 18-year-old centre/winger, Matt King, whose mum, Narelle is a friend of my wife’s family.
Matt did work experience with me at ‘The Courier-Mail’, and also at Channel 7.
When he first arrived at our place, I went to the local park with him and our 18-year-old son, Damien, who was part of the Broncos’ colts system at the time. Matt could kick a ball out of sight.
Later that week, Matt, who was being troubled by a sternum injury, received a $5,000 scholarship offer from North Sydney, after Parramatta had severed ties with him. (They had given him a scholarship to attend Woodlawn College, just outside Lismore).
Matt would go on to play for Norths, and then Cronulla, before finally cracking the big time at Melbourne Storm, via their feeder club, Brisbane Norths. By the time his career was over, Matt had played 114 NRL games for the Storm and South Sydney and 106 games for Warrington in England, as well as 10 Tests for Australia and nine State of Origin games for New South Wales. There also was one Queensland Residents match, but Matt doesn’t like to mention that.
Footnote: When Matt stayed with us in 1999, his older brother, Chris, a former Parramatta league star, was playing rugby union for Long Beach Unicorns in the United States.
Photo: Ron Wilkinson (far right)