DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 10 2019
Former Welsh rugby league player, Mike Murphy (I know, he should have played for Ireland) has died, aged 77, at his home in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Murphy played rugby union for Waterloo in Liverpool, before switching to league, with St Helens. He also went on to play for Leigh, Barrow and Bradford, before having stints in France with Tonneins and St Jacques. He played two Tests for Wales, both against the French, one in the 1975 World Cup and the other in 1979. Mike also had a bit part in the television show, ‘Merseybeat’, playing a character called Ged. The series was filmed at Widnes in Cheshire, on the banks of the Mersey, and revolved around the trials and tribulations of a group of police officers.
My wife, Marie and I met Mike at a bistro bar in Villeneuve-sur-Lot in France, after a match between the local club (the first in France to switch from union to league, way back in 1934), and St Gaudens from the Pyrenees Mountains, in 2007. Mike, who had been to the match, was sensational company, a real raconteur. His funeral notice asks for donations to refugees.
Former Queensland Times journalist, Joel Gould, who now works for NRL.Com., picks my brain about whether Allan Langer should be an Immortal. Of course he should be.
ABC radio reporter, Quentin Hull says to AFL boss, Gillon McLachlan, “We never see you up here.” Another journalist asks about the lack of coverage for the Lions and Suns in The Courier-Mail. I think they get heaps of coverage, too much if you ask me. For a reality check, Aussie rules fans, have a look at the space the Herald Sun and Age devote to Melbourne Storm.
Dinner (a Chinese banquet) at Coolangatta Bowls club with friends, Greg and Maree Grainger from Taro in the Hunter Valley and Maree’s brothers, Gary ‘Mouse’ Dowling, Paul ‘Chicka” Dowling and Glenn Dowling. Another brother, former Queensland State of Origin hooker, John Dowling, is a late scratching. I played at Murwillumbah Brothers with John and Gary. Gary represented New South Wales Country, from Gundagai, where he played alongside former Roosters’ utility, Kel Sherry, who worked in the post office. I was John’s captain in 1970, when we won the Group 18 Gold Coast premiership. Kel would have been captain, but he played mainly A grade that year. It proves to be an hilarious night at the ‘Cooly Bowlo’. Good company, good chat. ‘Chicka’ shouts dinner for Marie and I, for getting him tickets to a State of Origin match back in the 1980s. I don’t remember that.
Learn of the passing of former Brisbane Easts’ chief executive, Brian Smart.
In England, the wake for former Great Britain coach, Peter Fox, is held at Odsal Stadium, the home ground of Bradford Northern, a club he coached.
Lunch at Mt Warning Hotel, Uki with Greg and Maree Grainger. Food is ordinary. I had a hamburger and Marie, Barramundi. It was upsetting to see the tennis courts at Murwillumbah High School in a state of neglect. I was school captain in 1970, when tennis was strong, and our clay courts were first class. The star tennis players of the day included Elaine Walmsley, Robyn Furness, Graham Locklee, Gary Douglas and Don Cox.
A big group of ex-Cronulla rugby league players are having drinks at the Coolangatta Hotel, when we rock up. The pub is a dive compared with the great Coolangatta pub of the 1970s, when there was a sensational beer garden. A bloke carrying a didgeridoo cycles by, as we enjoy an ale.
Great body surf waves at Coolangatta Beach. There are two other old blokes with me, and we kill it. $5 for a small, double shot coffee afterwards. Really.
The Broncos belt the Cowboys 29-10 in a fast game of footy in round 2 of the NRL. Former Queensland State of Origin forward, Chris Phelan is anonymous in the crowd. Another, more recent Maroon, Ben Hannant does the rounds of the Precinct Bar, where my wife and I enjoy pre-game drinks, live music and live action, on the big screen, from the earlier game between Melbourne (22) and Canberra (10).
On the bus trip home, a young bloke standing in the aisle, farts in our faces. Twenty years ago I might have been in serious trouble for what I would have done to him. Instead, I tell him he needs an operation to find out what is wrong with his guts. His mates thought my comment was funny. Thank God we were getting off soon after. I don’t get the farting thing. There was a Queensland State of Origin player – no names, no pack drill – who was infamously putrid, and, on one occasion let go on an aircraft, with Japanese tourists nearby asking for parachutes.
Natives forfeit to Brothers in Brisbane Second Division football. Not a good look in senior football.
FoxSports commentator, Matt Nable asks Danny Buderus where Cronulla second rower, Kurt Capewell comes from. Research Matt. Research. Cronulla, with Prime Minister, Scott Morrison in the crowd, defeat Gold Coast Titans 20-6. Titans’ five eighth, Alexander (A J) Brimson is a great prospect and shows plenty of courage in a couple of situations, and one occasion is fouled, but there is no comment about the incident, and no action from the referees.
Neighbour, Clare Jackman, tells me, on her way to Mass, that next door neighbor’s sausage dogs barked all night. Not my favorite dog. And as for the owners —glad I don’t know them.
Wynnum Leagues Club is the venue for a ‘joint venture’ between Wynnum and the Men of League Foundation. I interview the likes of ex-Wynnum players, Gorden Haigh, Rob Raiteri, Mark Gliddon, John Te Reo and Colin Scott (the former Test fullback), with former Brisbane Norths, Redcliffe and Broncos’ hooker, Greg Conescu and former Wynnum hooker and captain (later president), David Green topping the bill. Mark Gliddon is to coach the Queensland Universities representative side this year. I have a good chat to former Wynnum utility back, Steve Plath, who had a stint with Villeneuve-sur-Lot in France, and is still highly regarded in the town. Ex-Inverell lad, Wayne Holder said I wrote the first story about him, after he moved to Brisbane, and played in the BRL. Wynnum stalwarts tell me the club’s legendary former Test winger, Lionel Morgan is in poor health.
After the function, it is time to watch the Intrust Super Cup match between Wynnum and Redcliffe, on Kougari Oval. Wynnum prop, Max Elliott, is a former Lismore Marist Brothers’ player, and I believe he is related to former top Tweed and Richmond prop, Aldo Bazzana, from Nimbin.
1 Gary ‘Mouse’ Dowling (right) with Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Rex Farrell and Brothers’ president, George Harris.
2 Murwillumbah High School’s tennis stars from 1969.
3 Chris Phelan in action for Townsville against Mt Isa in a Foley Shield match
4 Lionel Morgan (right) with another ex-international, Norm Pope (left) and Brisbane ‘super coach’, Bob Bax.