It was the moment Queensland probably lost the chance to defend its State of Origin title, and it happened at the unlikely setting of the Maclean Showgrounds, on the banks of the South Arm of the mighty Clarence River in northern New South Wales.
It was a low key trial match between Wynnum-Manly and a Clarence Valley selection, the latter side chosen from the two Grafton clubs, Ghosts and Souths, and the Maclean/Yamba side, Lower Clarence.
Wynnum centre, Gene Miles had been in majestic form for Queensland in 1984, scoring tries in each of the first two games of the State of Origin series against New South Wales, with the Maroons winning 29-12 in Brisbane and then 14-2 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It was Queensland’s third series win in a row, after also having won the two stand-alone Origin matches in 1980 and ’81. Miles had made his Test debut against the Kiwis in 1983, after touring Britain and France the previous year with the Kangaroos.
Along with fellow Queenslander, Mal Meninga, he was vying for the title as Australia, and the world’s best centre.
After the Origin success in ’84, as well as a 3-0 series win over Great Britain, with an Australian side dominated by Queenslanders, everything seemed in readiness for another stellar season for the men from north of the Tweed.
Wynnum were the 1984 Brisbane premiers and Combined Brisbane were the reigning National Panasonic Cup champions.
When Wynnum ran out at the Maclean Showgrounds, they were met with a crescendo of boos, with the locals sick of the dominance of the Queensland league boys. Most of the boos were undoubtedly aimed at Queensland skipper, Wally Lewis, who had been man of the match in Games 1 and 2 of the ’84 Origin series.
Lewis, Colin Scott and Greg Dowling all suffered leg injuries in the match on the suspect surface of the Maclean Showgrounds.
But nothing compared with the seriousness of Miles’ injury.
Brisbane orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Fergus Wilson told The Courier-Mail’s Andrew Slack (the former Wallaby skipper, turned journalist), it was one of the worst football related injuries he had seen.
“It is an injury more usually associated with ski-ing accidents,” Dr Wilson said. “Gene did not see the tackler, and his body bent backwards, forcing his knee to take all the pressure and almost being totally dislocated in the process.”
Miles’ rehab was to take place at the Mater Hill Sports Medicine Institute.
I covered the match at Maclean for the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper, and Wynnum were given a good run for their money by the local lads. I remember how depressed the Wynnum camp were back at the local bowls club, after the game.
The next day I had to cover a trial between the Ross Strudwick coached Brisbane Brothers and All Whites, at Toowoomba, given it was the league debut of former Wallaby Chris Roche, who had signed with Brothers.
But first I telephoned Queensland Rugby League chairman, Ron McAuliffe to get his reaction to the Miles’ injury, and its likely impact on the Maroons’ Origin chances.
McAuliffe was furious that Wynnum had taken a trial to Maclean, saying he could not see any benefit in ‘unofficial trials’ particularly as there was a Woolies pre-season in Brisbane.
“Champion footballers are like champion race horses and should not be treated in a very amateurish way,” he said. “Tommy Smith would certainly not run Red Anchor at Tambo; it would be Randwick. Wynnum-Manly at Maclean is much the same thing.”
Of course, my grand parents would have been horrified to hear that, if they were still alive. They had lived in Wharf Street, Maclean, just around the corner from the showgrounds, and my grandfather, Bill Ricketts was a regular at Lower Clarence matches, although, in his day, the Magpies played at a purpose built sports ground, behind the main shopping centre, next to the district bowls club.
As things transpired, Miles returned to football before the season’s end, and played for Wynnum in their 10-8 loss to Souths in the grand final.
But Queensland, without Miles, lost the Origin title for the first time and Brisbane were eliminated in the first round of the Panasonic Cup.
Wynnum coach, Des Morris was Queensland and Brisbane coach.
1 Gene Miles
2 Des Morris in his playing days with Brisbane Easts.