DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 13 2020
Former Balmain rugby league prop, Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach recalls his time at Warrington in England, in particular the financial incentives offered to players to win the big matches. Speaking on FoxSports, ‘Blocker’ says Warrington’s captain at the time (1988/89), Mike Gregory, met with the club’s board, just before a big match, and negotiated a 500 pounds win bonus for each player. In Ray French’s book, ‘The Match of My Life’, Gregory rated the 1990 Challenge Cup final against Wigan his most memorable game, even though Warrington lost 36-14.
Our eldest son, Damien runs laps of his home at Ayr in North Queensland, to keep fit, during isolation, following his return from the UK. With the Chinese heavily involved in our sugar industry in North Queensland, some of their CEO’s are stuck in Australia, because of the virus. And there is no sugar coating the fact the virus came from China.
Marie and I watch movies ‘Last Chance Harvey’ and ‘Walking on Sunshine’ on SBS World Movies.
Queensland Times (Ipswich) columnist, Michael Nunn has done a nice interview with 1963-64 Kangaroo tourist, John Cleary, who started his rugby league career with Ipswich Brothers, while teaching at Harrisville. He had previously played rugby union in Toowoomba, and then at Brisbane Brothers, from where he represented Queensland.
There is a lot more foot traffic on the paths near Kedron Brook, Grange, as people get fresh air – as they are allowed to do – during this period of lockdown. Marie and I watch the movie ’45 years’, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Some older people don’t get the rules of lock down, and are still inviting others over for ‘tea’. People in their 80s are still out shopping, and of course, they want to use cash, which shop staff don’t want to take. An intensive care nurse tells me the Chinese are using nappies as masks. Happy days.
A mate of mine tells me about the village of Everton in Victoria, where the pub opens two hours a day for local farmers.
Media man, Tim Nugent finishes at the Cowboys, after decades of service at the Townsville based club. Tim was always very helpful to me, although he always seemed a man with little time on his hands.
“Oh No! Is he all right?” a cyclist asks, as he and his mate ride by our place. “He’s in St Andrew’s”, comes the reply. It’s amazing what you hear from the centre path, running through our town house estate. People using the path must think they are out in the wilderness.
My wife and I have free movies for three months, thanks to Foxtel, who are rewarding our loyalty and helping us to get through this time of isolation. Social distancing regulations have been in since March 21, and the NRL competition was postponed after two rounds, round two played in empty stadiums. I fear for the game’s future.
Marie and I watch Woody Allen’s ‘To Rome with Love’. Not bad.
The Courier-Mail’s rugby writer, Jim Tucker tells me he saw a ‘Last Telegraph’ poster, in a coffee shop. I was working for the ‘Telegraph’, Brisbane’s afternoon paper, on that sad day – February 5, 1988. We all adjourned to the Jubilee pub for the ‘wake’. My last back page story was an interview with former Test fullback, Colin Scott, ahead of his season with the new Brisbane Broncos’ club. My other stories, that fateful day, were an interview with Gold Coast Giants’ utility, David King, the son of former Test winger, Johnny King; and a preview of the second round of Britain’s Challenge Cup competition, in which a number of Australians were to feature, among them Robert Grogan, the former Brisbane Brothers’ back, who was starring for Halifax.
Other by-lines in the final ‘Telegraph’ sports section belonged to Bruce Ruddy, Dave Argus, Renard Peters, Rod Gallegos, Mitchell Murphy, Peter Murphy, Geoff Stead, Nicki Byrne, Lex Swayn and Darryl Whitecross.
The Courier-Mail’s Travis Meyn picks my brain about the 2000 NRL season, which I covered as The Courier-Mail’s chief league writer. It was a massive year, with the Broncos beating the Roosters in the grand final. Later in the year, I covered the World Cup in Europe, for News Ltd.
On FoxSports, Gorden Tallis, who played in the second row in the 2000 grand final win, and then captained Australia against Russia in the World Cup, picks his best 17. Gordie also recalls the Super League War, and there is film of an ARL press conference in 1995 – chaired by Ken Arthurson – and there I am, as part of the media pack.
My Taree based English mate, Brian Atherton recalls Widnes’ winger, Billy Thompson, who infamously dropped a vital pass in a Challenge Cup semi-final back in the 1960s. Billy (not to be confused with the Test referee of the same name), later ran a fish and chip shop in Widnes, and customers would often say: ‘Don’t drop them Billy’, as he delivered bags of chips. Cruel.
Former Australian Rugby League five eighth, Tony Branson has died, aged 73 (see Vale Tony Branson, this website).
For the first time, I see a local wearing a mask – the Chinese lady behind the counter, at our Uxbridge Street general store. My wife has a skype morning tea with her Playgroup lady friends.
It seems that every RACQ spokesperson on television, is an attractive, white female. Or am I hallucinating?
Australian rock legend, Normie Rowe is supposed to be touring Queensland at the moment with Jade Hurley, Colleen Hewett and others, but…..the virus!
The harness racing meeting at Marburg, to the west of Ipswich, features the ‘No Crowd Handicap’.
Our youngest son, Lliam brings his two boys, Ethan and Connor to our place for a visit, but we have to social distance. It is so sad, not being able to hug them. We set up a temporary barricade in the driveway, so they do not rush us, or is it, so we do not rush them?
Neighbour, John Driscoll reminds me (from across the street) he had a season with St Esteve in French rugby league – in 1990. John, who played first grade for the Broncos, is originally from Rockhampton, and we talk about all the ‘Rocky’ lads who have done well in the code.
Today’s movies at home – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘King of Thieves’, the latter about the Hatton Garden heist of 2015. My wife, Marie worked for Hatton Garden’s diamond merchants, in 1978.
Foundation Sydney rugby league club, Newtown appeal for funds to keep afloat. Bell’s Beach Surf Classic is cancelled because of the virus. That seems a bit over the top.
It is spring in the northern hemisphere and people should be out enjoying themselves, but instead they are forced to stay indoors for much of the day, thanks to the virus. I have a look at beachfront ‘Live Cam’ from Dover (England). It is a lovely day, and normally there would be hundreds of people down by the water. Instead, there are only five people on the beach and one skate boarder doing his stuff on the pavement above. In the background, a few lorries and cars are driving onto a P & O Ferry, along with one ambulance vehicle.
Our movies – ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Marie hated the former, I liked it.
Learn of the passing of Bill Withers, 81. I still have his (vinyl) hit single, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’.
‘Pink’ has the virus. The singer, not Geoff Prenter (In-house joke).
Another comment from a passing cyclist: “Can I use emotional strength to make changes in my life?”
Our daughter, Melanie Mariotto and her husband, Greg head to the pub in Singapore, for the last time before lockdown.
South Sydney legend, Bob McCarthy features on ‘League Legends’ on FoxSports and what a great interview. He put Manly hit-man, John Bucknall out of the 1970 grand final with a legal, driving tackle. Earlier, Bucknall had broken the jaw of Souths’ skipper, John Sattler, who played on regardless, and led Souths to a famous victory.
The Courier-Mail’s Grantlee Kieza lists his favorite sports movies, with ‘Raging Bull’ first and ‘Chariots of Fire’ second. Rugby League movie, ‘This Sporting Life’, starring Richard Harris, comes in at 27.
1 Mike Gregory scores a try for Warrington (Pic. Andrew Varley)
2 The front page of the last Brisbane ‘Telegraph’
3 The back page
4 Lliam Ricketts and his sons, Connor (with Teddy bears) and Ethan arrive at our Grange residence, maintaining social distancing
5 Manly forward, John Bucknall passes to Ian Martin in the 1970 Sydney grand final. Souths’ skipper, John Sattler, who had his jaw broken by Bucknall, is in the background. The referee is Don Lancashire
6 One of Bill Withers’ hit records.