DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 13 2019
Devon (England) couple, John and Glenda Tapp’s travels have brought them to Australia again, and we catch up for breakfast at The Silva Spoon, Cotton Tree, on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, for morning tea. We first met the Tapps in Tasmania, in 2007, and have kept in touch, even to the extent of staying at their place at Galmpton, near Brixham. John has a travel blog – Tapp’s Travels – which rivals mine for popularity!! One of their recent trips took them down the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. Glenda had a relative who fought there, in what was then Burma, during World War II.
Super League England feature an interview with former dual rugby international, Ray French, a long standing commentator with the BBC. Ray recalls an old dear with an umbrella, who terrorised Knowsley Road, the home ground of the St Helens club. I think every footy club, in days gone by, had an old lady with an umbrella, who dealt out her own brand of justice. I remember women like that at the Recreation Ground, Tweed Heads and the Wingham Showgrounds, when I was playing. Australian forward, Noel Cleal was attacked by one such old dear, at ‘The Boulevard’, Hull – on the 1986 Kangaroo tour. I have known Ray for many years, and have thoroughly enjoyed his company. He played for England in rugby union, and has great respect for the 15 man code. But his heart is with rugby league. I have a copy of Ray’s book, ‘The Match of My Life’, in which players select one game that remains foremost in their memory. The players include South African, Tom Van Vollenhoven; Scotsman, Alan Tait; Kiwis Dean Bell, Frano Botica and Shane Cooper; Welshmen, Billy Boston, Jonathan Davies and John Devereux; Australians, Bradley Clyde, Allan Langer and Wally Lewis and Englishmen Phil Clarke, Lee Crooks and Neil Fox. (Australian journalist, Steve Mascord assisted Ray with the compilation of the book).
Van Vollenhoven nominated the 1959 Championship final, between St Helens (44) and Hunslet (22) at Odsal Stadium, Bradford. Van Vollenhoven scored three tries for Saints. Wally Lewis nominated the Third Test of the 1986 Kangaroo tour, when the Australians won 24-15 and Lewis scored one of the best tries of his international career.
Demolition work is in full swing at the Sydney Football Stadium, as I arrive for a Hall of Fame meeting, with David Middleton, Roy Masters and Geoff Armstrong, chaired by Frank Puletua. Ian Heads also was meant to be at the meeting, but his wife is ill, and he is a scratching. Our task is to consider men nominated for NRL Hall of Fame sub-categories – Broadcast Media, Print Media and Administration. Roy Masters and I have to excuse ourselves from some of the discussion, re print media, as we have been nominated. I point out, what I consider to be glaring omissions from the ‘short lists’ of contenders. Those ‘omissions’ include, John McCoy (broadcast media); Ross Livermore (administration); Lawrie Kavanagh and Paul Malone (print media). They are belatedly installed on the lists, without any drama, I might add, as the original short lists were meant as a guide, a starting point. Roy Masters asks me to help him with his NRL tips!!
The NRL Museum looks sad – dark and lots of stuff (seemingly) missing. Geoff Armstrong shows me a Bundaberg Wests jersey, sponsored by his daughter’s company. I was late arriving at the meeting, because my flight out of Brisbane was delayed several hours by fog, in Sydney. At Brisbane Airport I had a long chat to James Hinchey, who was also on his way to Sydney, for a meeting with Australian Rugby League Commissioner, Wayne Pearce, the former New South Wales’ skipper, and then coach. James, who wears a number of hats, including participation senior manager, eventually gave up, given his meeting with Pearce could not be re-scheduled. James and I had an in-depth discussion re participation levels, and I raised the ‘elephant in the room’ – the Polynesian juggernaut frightening many parents, who have kids wanting to play league. Let’s just say, it’s a sensitive topic. And, still on ‘the same topic’ – its about time cartoonists who like to depict league players as boof heads, accurately reflect the make-up of the NRL playing ranks. I will say no more.
On my flight to Sydney, the lady beside me looked at her phone the whole time. My cabbie from home to Brisbane airport, is originally from Turkey, and lives at Mansfield. He has lived here for 40 years, but still doesn’t know the difference between the Broncos and rugby union’s Reds. Strike me pink! There are plenty of South Australians in the same boat, mind you. The same cabbie yearns for the return of rugby union’s British Lions to Brisbane, because that was his best ever ‘earn’. In Sydney, my cabbie, from the airport to the NRL, has an Asian background, and lives at Richmond, after previously residing at Botany. His son and daughter still attend Sydney High in the inner city, despite the travel dramas. He is a nice enough bloke, but his front passenger seat is full of junk, and I am forced to sit in the back, in a ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ scenario, which is not the Aussie way.
At Sydney Airport, before my return flight, I pay $11 for a Carlton Draught.
Our Sandgate based accountant, Tim Mead gives me a Brighton Roosters Rugby League History booklet. His brother, Chris played for Queensland under-18s rugby union and Chris’s son played rugby union with future Bronco and Wallaby, Berrick Barnes. Tim’s late father, Kevin was a founding member of the Roosters, a club where our eldest boy, Damien won an under-17 premiership.
Fish and chips from ‘Fishmonger’ at Sandgate, followed by a walk around Dowse Lagoon.
Sydney Roosters’ fullback, James Tedesco tells FoxSport, that as a schoolboy, he went to ‘Europe, Wales and France’. Obviously geography wasn’t big at his school. He said he went to the Villers-Bretonneux War Memorial, where he learnt about soldiers from Sydney, something he did not know about. Again, not a great reflection on our education system.
Penrith beat Wests Tigers 9-8 thanks to a Nathan Cleary field goal. The Penrith team song is terrible.
Former Penrith coach, John Lang has a great quote – “Stats are like matches. They are dangerous in the wrong hands”.
The former Canberra Hotel at 75 Molesworth Street, Lismore, is for sale for $1,150,000. ‘The Canberra’ was the place to go back in the 1970s, and later become ‘Tommys’.
Valleys’ 1979 premiership winning side is honored before the Brisbane Rugby League match between the Diehards and Souths at Emerson Park, Grange. Most members of the side are there, including former Australian skipper, Wally Lewis and his wife, Jacqui. Their daughter, Jamie-Lee plays league for Souths Magpies, alongside Wally’s former Australian and Queensland teammate, Rohan Hancock’s daughter, Steph. MC for the function is noted media personality, Steve Haddan, the author of ‘Our Game’, the history of the Brisbane Rugby League. The audience includes Brooke Falvey, the daughter of 1979 winger, Peter Falvey. Brooke is a journalist, which is fitting, as her dad published newspapers for quite some time. Vic Wieland, one of the centres in the ’79 side, said his dad played for a Bundaberg selection against Australia in 1967. Australian captain-coach, Reg Gasnier asked for the match, because he thought his players needed to work on a few areas of their game, ahead of the Second Test against New Zealand at Lang Park. What a thrill for the locals – getting to play a match against Australia. Bundaberg put up a decent fight, going down 31-12. Outside backs, Ken Irvine, Les Hanigan and Johnny Greaves scored two tries each for Australia, while Billy Smith, Ron Lynch and Gasnier also crossed. Fullback, Graeme Langlands landed only two conversions. Centre, Alan Slean and forward, Darryl Brady scored tries for Bundaberg, Brady after second rower, Ivan Dent made a 60 metre break.
Chat with former Brisbane Souths’ centre, Ken Gittens, whose son plays for Valleys. Ken, who was compared to the great Mal Meninga, when he first hit the top grade in Brisbane, works for a munitions company. Our youngest son, Lliam brings his two boys, Ethan and Connor to the match for a taste of grass roots rugby league.
Learn of the passing of former Universities rugby league identity, Rex Lapham, at the age of 87. Rex was always very kind and helpful to our son, Damien when he played Unis league. Rex regularly contacted me, wanting to get publicity for the Universities competition in ‘The Courier-Mail’, which wasn’t always easy. Rex worked for the ABC for many years, and was part of the production crew which covered one of the first, if not the first, televised matches in the late 1950s, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. His dad, Ernie ‘Curly’ Lapham played 13 matches for NSW from 1922 to 1928, first from the StGeorge club and then from South Sydney, and was regarded as the fastest forward in Sydney.
Today is the 85th anniversary of the birth of rugby league in France, with Villeneuve-sur-Lot the first club to make the leap from rugby union to the 13 man code, and they are still going strong.
Canterbury out up a great show against Melbourne Storm, before losing 18-16. Ryan Papenhuyzen, a product of Dundas Shambrooks, makes his NRL debut for Melbourne. Murwillumbah product, Aaron Booth is man of the match for Easts in their win over Central Capras in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup.
Learn of the passing of former Cronulla and Gold Coast Chargers’ chief executive, Peter Armstrong, who I interviewed a number of times and always found to be polite and co-operative.
The second indigenous Wallaby rugby union rep., Lloyd McDermott, a barrister, also has died. McDermott, who played league at Eidsvold in Queensland, played union when he went to a private school in Brisbane. He returned to league with Wynnum-Manly, in 1964, but his heart remained with union and a rugby development program is named in his honor.
My wife, Marie and I watch a replay of the Grand National, from Aintree in England, with Tiger Roll becoming the first back-to-back winner of the race since Red Rum in 1973-74. Marie and I ‘met’ Red Rum in 1978 at Haydock in Lancashire. We drove from London to see the great steeple chaser in action, but got lost and missed the race. There were only two races left on the card, and to get in, we would have had to pay a ridiculous amount. Somehow I managed to ‘sweet talk’ the bloke on the turnstiles, and he let us in for free. We went to Red Rum’s stables and the strapper let us see her. Red Rum posed, as I raised my camera.
Our grandson, Connor says his ABC in such a cute manner
1 John Tapp (left) and his wife, Glenda (second from right) join Marie and I for a drink at the Samford pub.
2 The BBC’s Ray French (right) and top English league writer, Dave Hadfield enjoy a XXXX off the wood at Brisbane’s Breakfast Creek Hotel.
3 Hall of Fame guide.
4 Marie Ricketts with Red Rum at Haydock.
5 Marie Ricketts with Bernard Connaughton at a previous meeting at Haydock.