Rugby League’s 1999 Tri-Nations in Australia and New Zealand will not go down as one of the code’s great tournaments, particularly as it went head to head with the rugby union World Cup…
The fact that Great Britain failed to fire a shot, was a major reason the tournament failing to ignite public interest.
The Brits were destined to finish also-rans, after they struggled to beat the Burleigh Bears 10-6 at Pizzey Park, Miami, the week before their opening match – against Australia at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
The first match I covered in the tournament was a beauty, with New Zealand beating Australia 24-22 at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.
It was a good week, and the Kiwis didn’t go over the top with their celebrating, although a barman at my hotel couldn’t wait to tell me he once scored a try against the great Mal Meninga. He said he was playing for Air Force and Mal for Queensland Police.
Back in Brisbane, it was time to catch up with the British side at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast, and later I organised a promotional shot of the Australian (Brad Fittler) and British (Andy Farrell) skippers.
Former England Rugby League boss, David Howes’ supporters’ group had arrived in Brisbane and that night I caught up with ‘Howesy’ and a number of British journos, at Dockside.
Australia beat Britain 42-6 at Suncorp. It was a disappointing spectacle and the crowd of 12,511 was about what I expected, after the Brits’ lack lustre effort against Burleigh. Darren Lockyer scored two tries for Australia.
The match was second rower, Dennis Betts’ 33rd Test for Britain.
On Monday, November 1 I left Brisbane for Auckland, where I was ‘housed’ at the Heritage Hotel, the same hotel as the Kiwis.
Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott was in the room next to me, and I could hear what he was saying, through the paper thin walls. I knocked on his door and told him, and he was very appreciative. I know. Way too ethical for a tabloid journo.
I had an enjoyable one-on-one interview with Kiwi half, Gene Gnamu, who was playing with Huddersfield in England. (I found out later, my story never saw the light of day. So frustrating).
Caught up with members of the British press corps, who were having a grand old time, socially, given their side was not featuring in the final, and their papers did not want much news copy. It shows you just how much these were the print media’s glory days, because money was not an issue. Now, if the journos were lucky enough to be sent on tour, they would be sent home if ‘their’ team failed to reach the final.
As for the final – it one of the best matches I have covered, with Australia, coached by Chris Anderson, winning 22-20 against a desperately unlucky New Zealand outfit. (The Kiwis had beaten Great Britain 26-4).
Australian winger, Mat Rogers was absolutely sensational, scoring two tries and bobbing up all over the field. I doubt whether he would have played a better game in his career, in either rugby code. His dad, Steve, one of league’s all time greats, would have been so proud.
Britain, coached by Andy Goodway, were hopeless in the curtain raiser against the Maori, but managed a 22-12 win, with Sean Long scoring two tries.
After the Test, New Zealand Press Association journalist, Sri Krishnamurthi gave me a lift back to the city, where we caught up with fellow journos, Steve Mascord, Jeff Dunne, Brad Walter and John Coffey, as well as ‘the Poms’.
The next morning I filed my last stories for the year, as I was to embark on seven weeks leave, including a brief holiday on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula, but that’s another story.
Footnote: The Kiwis belted Tonga 74-0 at Carlaw Park, a week after beating Australia in the first match of the Tri-series. Brian Jellick, who would later make his name at Redcliffe, scored four tries for NZ. I don’t think we will ever see that scoreline again.
Photo: Dennis Betts.