DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 44 2019
On the eve of the Melbourne Cup, Radio TAB’S John McCoy takes a shot at ‘idiot parents’ who discourage their kids from watching the great race. RadioTAB’s sports breakfast show, broadcasts live from Eagle Farm. Ash Barty, after winning the Shenzhen Open, praises the ‘shitty of Shenzhen’.
West Wyalong Junior Rugby League Club, in western New South Wales, are angry that they will have to play in a different competition next season, meaning a lot more travel. For instance, they would have to travel 510 km for a game at Hay. It has been my experience, even in Brisbane, that many league administrators have no idea what parents have to go through, when it comes to taking their kids to games.
There is five-on-five rugby on television. It is fast and physical. Rugby union has stolen a march on league, with Sevens and Fives, which are used to spread the gospel. We have Nines, but there doesn’t seem to be the same urgency to get it out there.
Veteran journalists, Norm Tasker and Ian Heads are interviewed by Ray Hadley on his radio show, promoting their book ‘Great Australian Sporting Stories’. (The Foreword was written by former Australian cricket captain, Ian Chappell, who met Tasker in the 1960s, when Norm covered cricket, and then Heads in the 1970s, when Chappell moved to Sydney to live). I know Ian quite well, but not Norm. Ian says rugby league ‘Immortal’, Arthur Beetson’s hero was former British Empire middleweight boxing champ, Kempsey born, Dave Sands. I have seen Sands’ monument, at Stockton, across the Hunter River from the Newcastle City Centre. Ian saw the 1950 third and deciding rugby league Test between Australia and Great Britain at the SCG, when St George winger, Ron Roberts scored the winning try for the Aussies. That moment locked-in Ian as a rugby league fan for life.
My wife, Marie expresses strong views. First of all, she says it is ‘un-Australian’ of me not to have placed a bet on the Melbourne Cup! And then she says players who refuse to sing our national anthem, before sporting events, should not be selected. There would be many who agree with her, on both points. ‘Vow and Declare’ wins ‘The Cup’, and Marie has backed it. The ABC did not conduct an office sweep, in protest at the mis-treatment of horses. Good old ‘Aunty’. Heaven help any individual who ducked out of the ABC offices for a bet. He/she, whatever, would have been banished to the rural round. Former South Sydney prop, Tony Mestrov is head of New South Wales’ greyhounds.
Morning tea with author, Murray Barnett, who is writing the biography of former Test winger, Kerry Boustead.
Jayden Campbell, the son of Gold Coast Titans’ inaugural signing, Preston Campbell, has signed with the Titans until the end of 2022. Former Titans’ forward, Luke Douglas has retired. Originally from Yamba, in the Clarence Valley of northern New South Wales, Douglas proved one of the game’s most durable characters. His brother, Kane played rugby union for Australia. Luke played rugby league for Scotland, under the grandparent rule. Luke finished his career in England with St Helens, and then briefly, with Leigh. Former Townsville Blackhawks star, Shaun Nona is playing with French rugby league club, Limoux.
Noted author and rugby league fan, William McInnes visits the home of my fellow Queensland Rugby League History Committee member, Paul Hayes, to see his memorabilia collection.
Learn of the passing of former Brisbane Norths’ indigenous centre, Henry Hegarty, while south of the border, former Balmain fullback, Bob Smithies has died. SBS once did a special on Henry, who won five premierships with Norths in the 1960s. Smithies, a PE teacher, was fullback in Balmain’s 1969 Sydney premiership side.
Visit my former Courier-Mail colleague, Paul Malone in Princess Alexandra Spinal unit and accompany him to physio, with his wife, Sharon. Khan, the physio, is a lovely chap. Our former sports editor, Brian Burke also visits, while I am there. Steve Haddan’s book ‘My Game’, is in the hospital reading room. I helped Steve with the project, which details the history of the Brisbane Rugby League. Paul has a long road to recovery after a fall.
On the way home, Elwin John Hawtin runs up the backside of my car, as I wait for a red arrow to change to green, for the turn left from Lutwyche road into Newmarket Road. Essentially, no damage. Elwin’s dad, John is in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, while Elwin himself is in a band, which featured in an article in ‘The Australian’ newspaper in 2018. Elwin will probably miss out on the road transport Hall of Fame after today.
There is so much smoke over Brisbane, and I can smell the bush fires, to the north. There are also bush fires near Wingham, in the Manning District of New South Wales. I played rugby league for Wingham Tigers in the Group 3 competition, in 1975.
I interview former Queensland prop, Len Dittmar for Men of League Foundation magazine. I meet Len and his wife, Jenny (nee Cusack) at their Sandgate home, on Brisbane’s northern bayside. Marie and I lunch at Fishmonger. The snapper is tasteless, but the batter is good.
Watch Fiji 22 Papua New Guinea 20, rugby league Test from Christchurch. A Fijian player sticks the game ball up his jumper on full-time. When a PNG player tries to shake his hand, the Fiji guy brushes him, because he is too busy ‘hiding’ the footy. Next, there is the New Zealand v Great Britain Test, as part of a Christchurch double header, with the Kiwis winning 23-8 to claim the series 2-0. The British have a good pack, but lack the class centres of yesteryear, men like Gary Connolly, Garry Schofield, Keith Senior and Joe Lydon.
It is great to see British Supporters’ Groups in the crowd. How I miss the days when thousands of British supporters would follow their team on grand tours ‘down under’. It still happens with British Lions rugby union, but not the league.
There is a gathering of family friends at Ivory Pub, Tweed Heads, to remember my nephew, Kieran Ricketts, who passed away earlier this year, and would have been 37 today.
ABC Radio’s Macca (Ian McNamara), a rugby league man, recalls former Great Britain star, Phil Jackson, who finished his career coaching in the bush in New South Wales, after playing 27 Tests, between 1954 and ’58. Like Ray Hadley earlier in the week, Macca has veteran journalists, Ian Heads and Norm Tasker on his show, promoting their book. A lot of the conversation is about former Australian cricketer, Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly. I had the honor of meeting ‘Tiger’ in the press box at the SCG in the mid-1980s.
1 Len Dittmar and his wife, Jenny
2 Bob Smithies in action for Balmain
3 Phil Jackson races into the clear for Great Britain against France in Toulouse in 1954. Gilbert Benausse chases.