FLASHBACK: November 2010

FLASHBACK

NOVEMBER 2010
Australian fullback, Billy Slater described the 2010 Four Nations final at Suncorp Stadium as a ‘dogfight’, with the Kiwis walking away with bragging rights again, just two years after they had beaten the Kangaroos in the World Cup final at the same ground.
Slater has enormous respect for the Kiwis, and believes many Australian supporters under-estimated just how good New Zealand was during that time. The 2010 tournament featured the Trans-Tasman rivals, as well as England and Papua New Guinea.
It began with the Kiwis beating England 24-10 in Wellington on October 23, and Australia beating PNG 42-0 the following day at Parramatta Stadium. The following weekend, New Zealand thrashed PNG 74-12 in Rotorua, while Australia accounted for England 34-14 in Melbourne.
After a hectic season covering the NRL and State of Origin, I stepped aside for workmates, Matt Marshall and Peter Badel, for the early part of the tournament, while I caught up on family time.
My direct involvement with the tournament began with the Eden Park double header on November 6. I had flown to Auckland from Brisbane on November 3, hitching a ride with ‘The King’, Wally Lewis, from Auckland Airport to the CBD. (Wally had been greeted by airport workers with the obligatory bows).
That night, Wally and I attended the Rugby League International Awards dinner in Auckland, at which Australia’s Todd Carney was crowned international player of the year; fellow Australian, Wayne Bennett was named coach of the year and England’s Sam Tomkins, the rookie of the year.
I was a judge, along with the likes of English media men, Ian Laybourne, Dave Hadfield, Dave Woods, Eddie Hemmings, Ray Fletcher, Ian Golden, Andy Wilson, Martin Richards and a host of Aussies, including Roy Masters, David Middleton, Greg Alexander, Paul Kent, Glenn Jackson and Steve Crawley as well as Kiwis, Steve McIvor and Steve Kilgallon. There might have been a couple of Frenchmen and someone from Papua New Guinea, but they weren’t at the tournament.
At the dinner, I interviewed former Kiwi skipper, Howie Tamati, primarily about the Kiwis’ shock win over the Max Krilich captained, Arthur Beetson coached, Australian side at Lang Park, Brisbane in 1983, a match I covered for the ‘Telegraph’.
There was a big group of English supporters in Auckland, one of them legendary former Test halfback, Alex Murphy, who was there with his wife.
I had interviewed Alex on the 1982 and ’86 Kangaroo tours, and then again in 1989, at Knowsley Road, St Helens, for a Courier-Mail feature. My wife, Marie and I were staying with former Great Britain centre, Eric Hughes, and his wife, Jackie, at their country home in Cheshire, after I had finished covering the Queensland Residents’ tour of France. Eric was fitness trainer/assistant coach at Merseyside club, St Helens, and took the whole session, while I interviewed Alex in the boardroom.
It was great to chat with Alex again, in Auckland, and he looked in good shape, and was as cheeky as ever, while bemoaning the fall in standards in the English game.
It also was a chance for me to catch-up with my former pen-friend, John Ackland and his wife, Maree, with the three of us dining at the Cavalier Hotel, Ponsonby. John, who coached Samoa in the 2008 World Cup, guided the Warriors to the under-20 Toyota Cup title on October 3 when they beat South Sydney, in a match I covered for The Courier-Mail. The Warriors, captained by Elijah Taylor, had future superstar, Shaun Johnson at halfback. Ackland was the man who discovered Sonny Bill Williams and delivered him to the Bulldogs.
England beat Papua New Guinea 36-10 in the first match of the double header, a flat game, which did little to enthuse the crowd. The performance of England centre, Tony Clubb, who hails from Kent, and played for London Harlequins at the time, was one of the few bright spots.
Australia produced fluency in attack to account for the Kiwis 34-20 in the second game, a result which did not go down well with the fans, many of whom behaved badly, throwing bottles and other objects onto the field. They also booed during the playing of Advance Australia Fair. (Sadly, some Australians probably would do the same today, but I digress).
The press box at the ‘new’ stadium was impressive, a giant step-up from the facilities I encountered when I covered a Bledisloe Cup match there in 1985. You read correctly – Bledisloe Cup (see the story, ‘False Economics’, on this website).
After the double header, fellow journos, Glenn Jackson and Ian McCullough adjourned to our favourite watering hole, the Shakespeare Tavern, where we were joined by former Kiwi skipper, Gary ‘whiz’ Freeman, who was off to Las Vegas the next morning.
I interviewed Australia’s dual rugby star, Lote Tuqiri at ‘recovery’, before the team flew out for Brisbane. The Kiwi squad, coached by Stephen Kearney, arrived at Brisbane Airport at the same time as the Kangaroos, and things were a bit frosty between the two groups.
On Monday morning I attended Broncos’ training at the University of Queensland, because the word had got around that Greg Inglis would be there, ahead of his joining the Broncos, after having to quit Melbourne, following their salary cap dramas. ‘GI’ was a no show.
It was with great pride that I was able to organise a photograph of Billy Slater with former Australian fullback, Frank Drake at training at Langlands Park on November 10. Frank played two Tests for Australia, in 1960 and ’61, and like Billy, was a real pin-up boy and a flamboyant player.  Slater was impressed with the fact Drake was still fit enough to fit into the Australian jersey he wore, way back then.
I hope Billy appreciated what was happening. He will in future, I’m sure, just as I’m sure Gene Miles and Mal Meninga look back fondly now at a photo I arranged of them with Noel Hazzard and Alex Watson, at Brisbane’s Park Royal Hotel, in 1983, ahead of that Trans-Tasman Test match I mentioned earlier.
In that 1983 Test, Meninga and Miles became the first Queensland centre combination in an Australian team since Hazzard and Watson in the 1954 (against Britain) at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. This fact was pointed out to me by my sports editor at the ‘Telegraph’, John ‘Morto’ Morton.
After Australian training, I attended a Men of League Foundation lunch at the Sofitel, with Gary Belcher the MC and Billy J Smith the auctioneer. Belcher interviewed Australian coach, Tim Sheens; Wayne Bennett and Phil Gould. I was a guest of the QRL table, which included managing director, Ross Livermore and former Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Terry Mackenroth, who had become an independent director of the QRL in 2006.
It was a lovely occasion, and motivated me to one day help out the Men of League, in whatever capacity I could. Today, I am MC for the Brisbane committee’s lunches, as well as being publicity officer for the committee, and a regular contributor to the Men of League Foundation magazine.
On the morning of Four Nations final, I had the back-page story – about New Zealand’s Australian born halfback, Nathan Fien – and would you believe it, he scored a try for the Kiwis with 70 seconds left, to give them an amazing 16-12 victory.
My story pin-pointed Fien as the man the Kangaroos loved to hate, because of his niggling ways. Former Australian halfback, Tom Raudonikis had appealed to the Australians to get stuck into Fien. It was Kiwi maestro, Benji Marshall who conjured the match winner, involving himself twice in the lead-up to the try which broke the hearts of the Aussies and most in the crowd of 36,299.
Australia’s chances were rocked by the loss of Luke Lewis and Brent Tate to injury, in the first half, with Tate facing his third knee reconstruction.
The match was the last called by the ABC’s Gerry Collins, who had announced his retirement.
1 Kiwi skipper, Benji Marshall with the 2010 Four Nations Trophy
2 The great Alex Murphy
3 Frank Drake
4 Billy Slater

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