DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 18 2018
MONDAY, APRIL 30
Two blokes in a van, try to sell me a surround sound system, as I leave bottle shop at Lutwyche. Dodgy or what!
Death of former State treasurer, Terry Mackenroth, an independent director on the Queensland Rugby League board. My first dealings with Terry were as an industrial reporter for the ‘Telegraph’ in the late 1970s, when he was just starting out in Labor Party politics, as Member for Chatswood.
French Test rugby league hooker, Eloi Pelissier is back playing in France, with Lezignan, after a stint in England. My wife and I know Eloi, through our eldest boy, Damien who has contacts in the Catalonia region.
TUESDAY, MAY 1
Australian coach, Mal Meninga, speaking on FoxSports, mentions Wally Lewis’ long pass at Central Park, Wigan in the Second Test of the 1982 Kangaroo tour. It remains one of the great moments in international rugby league, given the pass travelled 30 odd metres and made it easy for big Mal to score in the corner.
Prominent rugby league historian, Mike Higgison has died after a short battle with brain cancer. Mike contributed Flashback items to the Brisbane and/or Queensland Rugby League programs for many years, and had an amazing library of statistics and events, a lot of it in his own hand writing and the result of meticulous research. He has left some of these items to different clubs, and other items to the QRL History Committee.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 2
Death of former Great Britain prop, Cliff Watson. There is amazing footage of Cliff, leaning up against the goal posts, before the 1973 Sydney grand final, when he played for Cronulla. That match, against Manly, is undoubtedly the most violent grand final in history. Cliff’s biography was called, ‘From Saint to Shark’. I interviewed Cliff for a 1995 book on Lang Park’s great moments. Cliff was adamant he was not the instigator of the brawl, in which he head butted Australian prop, Jim Morgan, leaving Morgan with his nose splattered across his face, in the First Test of the 1970 Ashes series, at Lang Park. “Jim decided he knew how to head butt, but it wasn’t a very good effort,” Cliff told me. “I waited a few seconds and then showed him how it was done. He tried me first, so I consider my actions self defence. Jim, to his credit, told the media he tried to head butt me first. He had to have an operation on his nose, but he succeeded in giving me back my migraines. I signed with Cronulla in 1971, and later became a rep., with my work taking me to Queanbeyan, where Jim worked at the Leagues Club. We became good friends and I used to stay at his place.”
Cliff was also friends with Brian Atherton, from Widnes, the groomsman at my wedding. Brian, who lives at Taree, and is married to an Australian lass, Carole, was instrumental in organising ‘golden oldies’ matches between the Brits and Aussies, at the Group 3 ground at Taree. I am sure the camaraderie engendered by these matches, had a lot to do with the formation of the Men of League Foundation (charity), of which Brian is now mid-North Coast Committee chairman.
THURSDAY, MAY 3
Gympie raised journalist, Phil Lutton chats to me about Gympie v Cherbourg rugby league matches of days gone by. We are both at the Broncos v Bulldogs match at Suncorp Stadium, with the Broncos snatching a 22-20 win, thanks to a late penalty goal. Another journalist, Joel Gould talks at length to me about rugby league in Ipswich.
In a Champions’ League semi-final between Liverpool and Roma, a Roma player touches the referee on the face. It doesn’t seem to be big deal in soccer.
FRIDAY, MAY 4
A couple of Monto visitors give me the breakfast (meat and eggs) tray they win in Stafford Tavern raffles. The two men, close friends of former Valleys’ player, Frank Clancy, have been to a Broncos’ Old Boys’ lunch, where the MC was the redoubtable Billy J Smith.
SATURDAY, MAY 5
A dad reverses out of his Uxbridge Street, Grange driveway, with his little son on his lap.
Tour of Yorkshire takes in Ilkley Moor, where I walked a number of times, during rugby league trips to the UK. Kangaroo teams often stayed at Ilkley, in run down accommodation. In 1947, the Col Maxwell captained Kangaroos stayed at the Stoney Lea Hotel, where the manager was Ma Griffin, a dour Scots woman. Australian halfback, Wally O’Connell said the players gave Ma Griffin all their ration coupons (remember, this was just a few short years after World War II) as she promised to look after them. The ration for meat was 10 pence a week and no fresh fruit. Potatoes were the only food item not rationed. “We soon realised our coupons must have been going somewhere else, as even meals, such as shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding, never contained a scrap of meat,” O’Connell said. “We soon gave up going down to breakfast, but one day we heard eggs would be on the menu, and we raced down to the dining room. We were disappointed to find the eggs were powdered and had no taste.”
The Newtown v North Sydney Frank Hyde Cup match (named after the legendary radio commentator who played for both clubs) is live on Channel 9, the first time the two clubs have been on the free-to-air channel since 1982, when current Nine commentator, Phil ‘Gus’ Gould played for Newtown. ‘Gus’ is at Henson Park for this one. I didn’t realise, until I read it in Hyde’s book ‘Straight Between the Posts’, that North Sydney were known as the ‘Shoremen’, years before they became the Bears.
Brisbane (Boondall) boy, Michael Russo’s London fashion business is getting lots of media attention, because it has been discovered by the rich and famous. We know the Russo family from our time living at Zillmere.
SUNDAY, MAY 6
Marie brings back ‘real water melon’ from Mitchelton Markets. It was a grown at Tenterfield in New South Wales.
Wests Tigers’ winger, Mahe Fanua describes England’s Challenge Cup as a funky competition. In the 122 year history of the Cup, I bet this is the first time it has been called funky. Fanua played at Wembley, with Hull, in 2016 and ’17.
Murwillumbah product, Reece Robson makes his NRL debut, at hooker, for St George Illawarra. Robson is asked by one interviewer about being from an area not renowned for league players, given there are so many hippies. Well I never. Murwillumbah is league central. Another Murwillumbah boy, John Dowling played for St George in the 1970s-80s.
Photo 1: Mike Higgison
Photo 2: 2 Cliff Watson playing for Britain against Queensland. Ray Laird is the Qld number 1.
Photo 3: Jim Morgan after being head butted by Cliff Watson (diary 18)
Photo 4: Wally O’Connell (centre) unpacking at the Stony Lea Hotel, Ilkley in 1948, with teammates, Len Pegg (left) and Jack Horrigan.