DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 8 2019
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25
A statue of rugby union legend, John Eales is unveiled at the southern forecourt of Suncorp Stadium. It doesn’t seem right, somehow, that a union player should Immortalised at the home of rugby league. Next thing you know, they will put a soccer player there!
The Murri under-16 team rugby league trains at Emerson Park, Grange, just around the corner from my place. The coach is Ipswich Jets’ legend, Keiron Lander (a Quiplie junior), with former Mackay Cutters’ star, Jardine Bobongie also on the staff. The QRL’s media unit, with Colleen Edwards at the helm, films training.
In a television documentary, chef, Kylie Kwong romanticises about Hong Kong, as if there are no problems there.
Learn of the passing of former Great Britain rugby league coach, Peter Fox. I first met him on the 1982 Kangaroo tour of Britain and France, when he was coach of Bradford Northern. Bradford really took it to the undefeated ‘Roos, and Fox claimed he had the formula to beat the Frank Stanton coached side. Fox was coach of Great Britain in 1978, when they went down 2-1 to the Kangaroos, but came up with a famous victory at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, with a team dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’. Fox started his playing career with Featherstone Rovers and finished at Wakefield Trinity. His brothers, Neil and Don both played for Great Britain, Neil 29 times between 1959 and ’69, and Don just the once, against the 1963 Kangaroos.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Former Brothers’ teammate, Murray Schultz suggests I put my hand up to be a selector at the Confraternity Shield Schoolboys Carnival at Bundaberg. Murray also tries to recruit another Brothers’ boy, Clem Hovi, as we enjoy coffee at Aspley. A lot of old footy stories surface, including the day Valleys’, Dennis ‘Dog’ Ride, flattened Brothers’ forward, John Leyden, off the ball. Murray played for North Queensland AND Brothers in the 1976 Amco Cup knock-out competition. Murray had started the season back in his home town, Bowen, but then returned to Brisbane for work reasons. But not before turning out for NQ against Canterbury in an Amco Cup double header at Lang Park. Canterbury thrashed the northerners 40-0. Murray marked New South Wales’ centre, Keith Harris. I played for Brothers in the early game, and we made history by beating Penrith 19-8, therefore becoming the first Brisbane club to beat a Sydney club in a competition game. I played at centre in the third and fourth quarters, and marked Ross Gigg. When Murray Schultz returned to Brothers, he played centre in an Amco Cup match against Balmain at Leichhardt Oval, and marked former Cudgen and Brothers’ star, Graham Roberts. Balmain won 19-3 and went on to win the competition.
Former rugby league commentator, Billy J Smith died tonight, aged 73, after a fall at the Caxton Hotel, where he had been dining with friends. Billy was the best MC in Australia, in my view, his cutting wit livening up even the most staid of functions. The Courier-Mail’s Mike Colman described Billy as a legend in his own lunchtime – and in the lunchtime of thousands of others as well. I thought his radio calls were fine, but I wasn’t a great fan of him as a television commentator, although I enjoyed the verbal jousting between him and fellow commentator, Mick ‘The Farmer’ Veivers. For a short time he was host of the Queensland version of The Footy Show on Channel 9, alongside the likes of Tony Durkin, Donna Lynch, Gary Belcher, Kevin Walters, Laurel Edwards and Michael O’Connor. I had to interview Billy at Seagulls’ Stadium, Tweed Heads one day, after it was reported he had fallen on hard times, financially, and he was dignified and as co-operative as he could be, in answering my questions. At the time, I think he was managing Queensland league legend, Wally Lewis, who was contracted to Tweed Seagulls.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28
The funeral for former Australian Rugby League forward, John Payne proves a wonderful tribute to a great character. St Clement’s Anglican Church at Stafford is packed, with the vast majority of the congregation, men. Former teammates, David Wright, Bruce McLeod and John Lang give wonderful eulogies, as does John’s son, Paul. One of Payney’s favorite sayings, to his kids, was ‘Ring a ding ding, Payney’s the king’. John, a fiery red head, was a neatness freak, who was always immaculately dressed, with shirts, trousers – everything, ironed beautifully. One day, as he and Bruce McLeod were driving along Ipswich Road, Annerley, a ‘tradie’ threw a sausage roll through the open driver’s side window of John’s car, with tomato sauce splattering all over his white shirt. Let’s just say, things didn’t end well for the tradie, at the next set of traffic lights.
Evidently John played against future top coach and journalist, Roy Masters at the Casino knock-out competition, which, at the time, was the biggest schoolboy rugby league carnival in Australia. John was born at Bonalbo, but the family moved to Paddington in Brisbane when he was still very young, and he played his junior football with Wests. His dad had a butcher shop at ‘Paddo’.
SATURDAY MARCH 2
A minute’s silence is observed for former Great Britain coach, Peter Fox before the Wakefield Trinity v Leeds match at Headingley. His brother, Neil, is there. During the match, SKY commentator, Phil Clarke says league fans almost regard kicking for goal after a penalty, as cheating. They would prefer their side to run the ball. Phil was having a dig at rugby union, where penalties are worth three points, compared with two in league.
My wife, Marie and I attend fourth birthday party for our grandson, Ethan Ricketts at Frew Park, named after a former president of the Queensland Lawn Tennis Association, and located on the site of the old Milton tennis courts, which hosted Davis Cup ties. Former Miss Universe Australia, Erin McNaught is there with her sons, Ennio and Evander, who are friends of our grandsons, Ethan and Connor. McNaught is married to Englishman, Elliott Gleave, aka Example. That probably means something to some of you.
I visit former Brisbane Easts’ rugby league chief executive, Brian Smart, who is in palliative care at Redcliffe Hospital. Brian and his wife, Elaine came on three of my four Kangaroo Supporters’ tours to the UK and Europe. Brian recalls our cruise on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, England in 1994, and fondly remembers the fish and chips at The Boat Inn, Stoke Bruerne. Brian was a solid player in his day, and on one occasion kicked 14 goals from 15 shots in a match against Redcliffe, at the Redcliffe Showgrounds, which are just over the road from the hospital. Brian also was an accomplished tennis player, and came up against future US Open winner, Mal Anderson in a metropolitan final in Brisbane. One of the visitors to Brian’s bedside earlier in the week, was former Queensland State of Origin forward, Cavill Heugh.
Rail journeys program on television touches on Walton Hall in West Yorkshire, where I covered an International Rugby League Federation meeting in 1982.
Newcastle Knights host Cronulla in a NRL trial at Maitland in the Hunter Valley, and the crowd is around 6,000.
SUNDAY, MARCH 3
The Sunday Mail’s Rory Gibson writes about fishing for jew (also known as mulloway) at Yamba, in northern New South Wales, where my grand father, William Ricketts landed plenty, ‘back in the day’.
1 Peter Fox (centre)
2 Peter Fox (far left) with members of 1978 British side, before their win over the Aussies at Bradford (photo Varley Picture Agencies)
3 John Payne supports a Brisbane Easts’ teammate
4 Brian and Elaine Smart (second row of seats) on the flight to Madrid in 1998. Sitting in front are fellow Brisbane Easts’ rugby league stalwarts, Athol and Neryl Nielson.