The Second Life of the Newtown RLFC, by Glen Dwyer
It is one of the regrets of my life in rugby league, to date, that I have never been to Henson Park for a Newtown home game.
I have flown over the ground many times, usually on may into Sydney to cover football, either for the old Brisbane ‘Telegraph’, or ‘The Courier-Mail’.
A number of my mates, and former teammates and rivals, have played for Newtown, among them brothers Peter and Mick Ryan; Geoff Edwards, Steve Hage, Barry Jensen and Shane Kelly.
But I have never been to Henson Park.
I have been a spectator at Newtown matches, most notably at Redfern Oval in 1973, when the ‘Blue Bags’, as they were known, went down to South Sydney 22-16, in a thriller, with Newtown skipper, Lionel Williamson scoring two tries. Jack Gibson was coach.
And in 1981, I covered the Newtown Jets’ 23-19 win over Combined Brisbane in a Tooth Cup match at Lang Park, with winger, John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson the difference.
In 1982, when I covered my first Kangaroo tour, one of the managers was Frank Farrington from Newtown.
It was terribly sad to see the club kicked out of the then NSWRL, at the end of the 1983 campaign, just two years after they played in a grand final – against Parramatta.
From 1984 to 1990, Newtown did not field a senior team, in any competition. These were “The Wilderness Years’.
In 1991 Newtown returned to senior football as a member club in the NSWRL Metro Cup. The club has fielded teams ever since, and ‘Taking It To The Streets’ chronicles the struggle to return to football, and then the subsequent years, first in the Metro Cup and then another 20 years as a second tier, or feeder club, for the NRL.
In 1992, Newtown won the Metro Cup grand final, with North Sydney legend, Fred Teasdell the skipper, and Brian Wakefield the coach. Tony Catton, a member of the 1989 Queensland Residents side on their tour of France, played lock.
I covered that tour for ‘The Courier-Mail’, and Tony’s aunt was a neighbour of ours at Zillmere, in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.
Shane Kelly, a former Toowoomba, Brisbane Valleys and St George Dragons player, and one of the game’s great characters, was prop in the ’92 grand final, when Newtown defeated Wentworthville 30-18.
The book’s author is Glen Dwyer, who has been a director of Newtown since 1994 and the club’s media officer since 1997.
Originally from Toowoomba, Dwyer played for Newtown in 1972, after turning out for Sydney University in the New South Wales Rugby League Second Division the year before. He also had stints in ‘the bush’, with the likes of Wagga Kangaroos, Maitland and South Newcastle.
Towards the end of the book, Dwyer, as author, claims the licence to name his World XIII, a team he describes as ‘idiosyncratic’, and one has to agree.
But I loved reading the explanations behind his selections.
His centres are Toowoomba’s own, John ‘Cracker’ McDonald and Newtown legend, Brian ‘Chicka’ Moore, who toured Britain and France with the 1967-68 Kangaroos.
“He (Moore) didn’t play a Test on tour, but was the leading try scorer,” Dwyer wrote. “He acquired virtual cult status in France, where his prematurely balding pate earned him the nickname ‘Le Chauve’, with French rugby league fans assuming he was some sort of indomitable veteran.
“Moore featured on the front page of prestigious French sporting journal L’Equipe in late 1967, an honour rarely accorded to Jeu a Treize players”.
Inter-change player, Louis Mazon from France: “A man who could break out of a wartime SS Prison, on two occasions, and take out a few Nazis into the bargain, and then years later play rugby league at international level, is always going to be chosen in my World XIII”.
Dwyer’s team is: Frank Drake (Australia); Clive Sullivan (Wales), John McDonald (Aust), Brian Moore (Aust), John Ferguson (Aust); Johnny Gleeson (Aust), Alex Murphy (England); Vince Karalius (Eng), Kurt Sorensen (New Zealand), Bob McCarthy (Aust); Maunga Emery (NZ), Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan (Eng), Jim Mills (Wales). Res: Roger Millward (Eng), Louis Mazon (France), Cliff Watson (Eng), Bill Noonan (NZ). Coach, Duncan Thompson (Aust).
1 The Jets run out at Henson Park
2 Tony Catton
3 Shane Kelly
4 Patron, John Singleton (left) and director, Frank Farrington
5 Glen Dwyer