What could possibly go wrong? It was November, 1982, and I had chosen a pub called ‘The Old Bore’ at Cunning Corner, for lunch, on the way to the Australian Rugby League Kangaroos’ match against Bradford Northern at Odsal Stadium.
Although I was not the driver, I had been tasked with planning many of country drives from Leeds, given I had lived in the UK in 1977-78, and I had with me AA books of British Villages.
Sydney Sun league writer, Geoff Prenter (the founding editor of Rugby League Week) was the driver, with the other passenger, Sydney radio’s legendary, John ‘Brenno’ Brennan.
Prenter and Brennan thought I had come up with a cunning plan to miss the kick-off for the Bradford match, when my chosen pub, near the village of Rishworth, failed to appear.
When we did catch a glimpse of it, we had cruised by at great rate of knots, given it was located on the aptly named ‘Cunning Corner’.
The rabbit pie, washed down with Jennings beer, made the complicated journey worthwhile.
The game against Bradford, who were coached by former Great Britain boss, Peter Fox, proved the toughest of the tour, with the home side trailing just 7-6 with eight minutes to go, before late tries to Greg Brentnall and Gene Miles sealed victory for the ‘Roos, who were captained on this occasion by centre, Steve Rogers.
The crowd of around 11,000 loved the tight contest, which featured a willing battle in the forwards, with 37-year-old warrior, Jeff Grayshon inspiring a local pack, which included future Great Britain captain, Brian Noble, a local Bobby, at hooker; and the dynamic, Mick Rathbone at lock, who lost nothing in comparison to Australia’s Ray Price. Man of the match was Australian winger, Eric Grothe.
Back in Leeds, Prenter and I enjoyed dinner at Jigolo’s, before I filed my story for Brisbane’s ‘Telegraph’ newspaper. The players were celebrating in the piano bar of the Dragonara Hotel, their Leeds’ base. Team co-manager, Frank Farrington and Australian prop, Rod Morris made it clear, over an ale or two, they were not great fans of the media. (The other manager was Brisbane’s Tom Drysdale).
Coach, Frank Stanton held a nightly press conference in the main bar of the Dragonara, although it was possible to chat to him after training sessions, at places such as the Rothwell Sports Centre.
The Telegraph’s sister paper from Queensland Newspapers, ‘The Courier-Mail’, was represented on tour by Lawrie Kavanagh, and Lawrie and I often caught up with radio commentator, John McCoy, who had some colorful yarns about his early days in the industry, particularly in Mt Isa.
For the first time, the Kangaroos had their own media officer, ‘Break Even’ Bill Mordey, who was great company, and was usually to be found alongside ARL chairman, Kevin Humphreys who, like Bill, loved to gamble. There was a casino on the ground floor of the Dragonara.
It was Mordey who alerted the media contingent to a great pub – The Chequers Inn – at Ledsham, a village near Castleford. The first time we went there, steak and kidney pie was the special, and it was to die for, as was the Theakstons Bitter. Publican, Chris Wraith was a fine host and it was refreshing to see rugby league photographs adorning the walls.
After that impressive lunch, we headed onto the North Yorkshire Moors and the village of Coxwold, where the publican of the Faunconberg Arms was celebrating his birthday, and although it was after closing time, he let us in. He was desperate for us to stay for his party, but Lawrie Kavanagh had to return to Leeds to file a story. Fauncon spoil sport. (Years later, the North Yorkshire Moors were to prove a favorite place for my wife and I to undertake country walks).
A place of pilgrimage for me, in 1982, was Ilkley, in the Wharfe Valley, where previous Kangaroo touring sides had stayed.
In his autobiography, ‘In Defence’, Australian halfback and future Queensland coach, Wally O’Connell recalled staying at the Stony Lea Hotel, Ilkley, and receiving food parcels from his wife, back in Australia, containing tinned fruit and bacon.
“I was fortunate to have an open fire place in the room, and I obtained a cast iron plate on which to cook the bacon,” O’Connell wrote. (Food at the Stony Lea was basic).
“At one stage, we heard on the grapevine that a hotel above the (Ilkley) Moor, was serving steaks for lunch. Although the meal was very expensive, we enjoyed it, and decided to make it a weekly ritual. We subsequently learned the steak lunch had stopped, as the landlord had been charged by the police for selling horse meat. Serveral of the players fell ill.”
Whenever I could, I got along to club football at Headingley, Leeds, and after one such match, won 13-10 by Leeds over St Helens, I accompanied Yorkshire Post league writer, Ray Fletcher to the ‘tea rooms’, for pie and peas, where I met the likes of former Great Britain fullback, Arthur Keegan from Hull; former Leeds’ fullback, Robin Dewhurst (who played for the club against the 1967 ‘Roos) and Barry Dearden from Widnes, who I had met at Murwillumbah, in the early 1970s.
In 1966, as a 13-year-old schoolboy, I had seen Keegan play for Britain against Australia in the Second Test at Lang Park, Brisbane. He kicked both goals in a tryless match, won 6-4 by Australia, He also was attacked by a spectator, who ran into the in-goal area, as Keegan waited for Australian fullback, Keith Barnes to kick one of this three goals. The British players delivered swift and efficient punishment to the culprit.
In November, 2008 I wrote Keegan’s Obituary, for ‘The Courier-Mail’. He played nine Tests for Britain, between 1966 and ’69, and remains a Hull favorite.
1 John McCoy (centre) with Peter Psaltis (left) and Paul Sawtell during John’s final broadcast for Radio TAB on January 31, 2020.
2 Jeff Grayshon (centre) confronts the Aussies at Odsal. Brian Noble is on his right.
3 Marie Ricketts on the North Yorkshire Moors.
4 The 1966 Great Britain touring side. Arthur Keegan is second from the left, in the backrow.