Just as Great Britain sides once played New South Wales and Queensland, Kangaroo touring teams also played County sides, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria.
Yorkshire and Lancashire tried to emulate State of Origin with a concept called ‘The War of the Roses’, named after the 15thC ‘civil war’ between the Houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – a struggle for the ‘Throne of England’.
Alas, it never really took off, or captured the imagination of the British league public.
For instance, in 1989 the inter-county match drew a crowd of just 10,182 at Central Park, Wigan. The fact there were mass withdrawals beforehand, might have had something to do with it.
Lancashire were hardest hit with the loss of Darren Wright, Joy Lydon, Tony Myler and David Hulme before the teams went into camp, and then the scratching of Denis Betts on match day. Yorkshire’s only withdrawal was Manly’s 1987 grand final hero, Kevin Ward from Castleford.
Not surprisingly Yorkshire won easily – 56-12 – with Andy Goodway, Paul Newlove and Graham Steadman each scoring two tries.
In keeping with the ‘smaller’ crowds at the inter-county games, the matches against Kangaroo, and for that matter, Kiwi, touring sides, generally drew smaller crowds than those attracted to tour matches against club sides.
On the inaugural Kangaroo tour in 1908, Australia defeated Lancashire 20-6 at Wigan and Yorkshire 24-11 at Hull. There was a return match against Lancashire at the end of the tour – back at Wigan – with the locals winning 19-14.
The last time the Kangaroos played Lancashire was 1967 when Queenslander, Dennis Manteit turned in a blinder, in muddy conditions at Salford, to force his way into Australia’s pack for the First Test against Great Britain. Manteit, from the Brisbane Brothers’ club, frequently broke the first line of defence and his tackling was top class.
The match was the first on tour for Sydney Easts’ centre, Ron Saddler, a Riverina product who had signed for the Roosters from Murwillumbah Brothers in 1963, after winning two Tweed premierships, under the coaching of Englishman, Bert Holcroft. Saddler’s strong defence unsettled rivals, and his co-centre, tour captain-coach, Reg Gasnier had a field day in attack, in the 14-2 win. There had been matches against both counties in 1963, with the Australia losing on both occasions.
The Lancashire and Yorkshire teams were always chosen on ‘Origin’ lines, with only those born in the County eligible for selection. In 1967, this ruled out Lancashire based Test props, Cliff Watson and John Mantle, because they were born in London and Wales respectively.
Jack Reardon, who was covering the tour for ‘The Courier-Mail’, wrote: ‘This is the point some people might like to use in their arguments over state representation in Australia. Queenslanders, bought by New South Wales, have been stars for years in matches against their home state.”
State of Origin would have to wait another 13 years, and it would not be based on where you were born, but rather where you played your first senior football.
For instance, Norm Carr, regarded by many as the quintessential Queensland footballer, was born at Coffs Harbor in NSW, while NSW legend, Peter Sterling was born at Toowoomba, when his father was based at nearby Oakey, in the Army Aviation Corp.
Yorkshire stretches from the North Sea Coast to within 20 km of the Irish Sea Coast, and is far and away England’s biggest county.
Lancashire, on the western side of the Pennines, has been carved up to some degree, with the declaration of Great Manchester, and the loss of some ‘ground’ to Cheshire and Merseyside.
I was based in Leeds, Yorkshire, when covering the 1982 and ’86 Kangaroo tours, and again during Australia’s 2000 World Cup campaign and the 2004 Tri-Nations. I have travelled the length and breadth of a county famous for its dramatic landscape, and seen attractions such as Castle Howard, Fountains Abbey and Harewood House.
I have never tired of its people, or its attractions.
1 Yorkshire winger, Carl Gibson off-loads, watched by teammate, Graham Steadman in the 1989 match playing against Lancashire at Wigan.
2 Ron Saddler (centre) with Johnny Raper (left) and Reg Gasnier.
3 Hikers pass through the village of Thwaite in the Yorkshire Dales.