DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 37 2020
Queensland State of Origin rugby league forward, Gavin Cooper announces his retirement. Murgon product, Cooper was one of those players who improved with age, making his Origin debut, aged 30.
I have my first surf of Spring – at Marcoola, on the Sunshine Coast – where my wife, Marie and I are staying, on the last leg of a four week trip, which took us as far north as Townsville.
In the sports bar of Ramada Hotel, a bloke near me says that crocs can’t swallow underwater. Fascinating. Mitre 10 Rugby Union from New Zealand is on the big screen, and there is a bad shoulder charge by Otago’s Sio Tomkinson on an Auckland player, and the referee, correctly, sends big Sio from the field. Taranaki’s home games are being held at the ‘cute’ Inglewood ground, given the main stadium in New Plymouth, is about to undergo major works, aimed at strengthening it against the threat of earthquakes.
ABC Television – out of Melbourne I believe – have produced a special on Olympic Gold Medal winning athlete, Cathy Freeman, from Queensland, but there is no mention of the rugby league stars in her family. Her grandfather, Frank ‘Big Show’ Fisher was named in the Indigenous Team of the Century, and her father, Norm was a fine player. They may have, just possibly, contributed something to Cathy’s athleticism, by the way of genetics. As one fellow league tragic points out – if the ABC discovered there were Aussie rules stars in the family tree, they would have led the story on it.
Back to Brisbane, via morning tea at Cotton Tree and lunch (fish and chips) at Mooloolaba.
‘Flappers’ are featured on ‘Further Back in Time’ on television. My grandmother, Eve Ricketts, was one. Flappers were free spirited ladies, who, in the 1920s, pushed for greater freedom for women.
On FoxSports, Andrew Voss has a great interview with Mike Cleary, who represented Australia in athletics, rugby union and rugby league.
Murwillumbah Brothers’ rugby league stalwart, Percy Lawson has died. He was an official of the club, when I played there in the early 1970s. A farmer, he was great company, nearly always sporting a smile, and loving the banter between players at the Murwillumbah Hotel, where we sold raffles.
I retrieve five paw paws from our community garden, no doubt just beating the flying foxes.
THURSDAY, SERPTEMBER 17
Former Gold Coast Titans and Melbourne Storm rugby league player, Joe Tomane has taken Berrick Barnes’ place at Japanese Rugby club, Ricoh Black Rams, Tomane is the son-in-law of Broncos’ stalwart, Angelo Vernados, a lawyer, who some people believe would be a fine replacement for outgoing CEO, Paul White. Tomane has just finished (Covid) isolation in Auckland. My good mate, Ray Ebert, a former Australian Rowing Team manager, recalls renowned Broncos’ recruitment chief, Cyril Connell sitting beside Barnes’ mum during a schoolboy carnival. Barnes ultimately signed with the Broncos, but did not make the impact expected of him. I thought he was a good player, but inclined to rush, or overplay things. He played nine first grade matches for Brisbane in 2005, before switching to union.
Eric Pappas cuts my hair, and the chap in the other chair in the barber shop, a Balmain fan, says he remembers reading my stuff in ‘The Courier-Mail’. He always thought I was a biased Queenslander, and is shocked to hear I am a Roosters’ fan.
Stop-in at Happy Valley Brewery, Stafford, where the proprietor tells me they have 11 beers, two of them pale ales. He used to work at Newstead Brewery. On my walk to the Stafford Tavern, I see two ladies, wearing masks, photographing what looks like a weed, at a bridge over Kedron Brook. Former police officer, Gerry McKendry had been to Broncos’ training, and liked the look of young forward, Ethan Bullamore, a product of Emerald Brothers in Central Queensland. McKendry had a chat with league ‘Immortal’, Wally Lewis, who told him how much he admired former rugby union star, Mark Ella.
Greg Shannon, the North Queensland rep. on our QRL History Committee, says his mum has gone into a retirement home at Ipswich, and next door is Harry Griffiths, who played 13 matches for his State, between 1947 and 1951, from Ipswich club, Booval Swifts. Eleven of those games were against New South Wales. He also played against New Zealand (1948) and France (1951).
I have a long chat to Brisbane Men of League patron, Ron Atkins, who recalls being knocked out by the legendary Clive Churchill, in 1959, when Churchill was playing for Norths, and Atkins for Wests. Atkins, a product of Tweed rugby league, recalled playing against another indigenous lad, Lloyd McDermott, at Wynnum, after the former GPS sprint star switched from rugby union. “I would run past him, and tell him to go back to union,” Ronnie said.
Penrith beat the Cowboys, to claim their third minor premiership since entering the big time in 1967.
My former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Gary Harley calls the Newcastle races. He says this about one horse: “It has had a win at Gilgandra, and a place at Moree. Not good enough”.
There has been an arson attack on St Carthage’s, Lismore in northern New South Wales, the Cathedral where my grandparents on my mothers’ side; my parents, and Marie and I were married.
Lonnie Lee turns 80. The first song of his that I recall is ‘Starlight Starbright’.
There is a moving tribute to long serving Brothers’ strapper, the late Jimmy Johnson at Gibson Park, Stafford, during home matches for ‘The Fighting Irish”. There is a pipe band, and former Test halfback, Tom Raudonikis presents the jerseys to the players. Tom, who played for, and coached Brothers, in the early 1980s, was a close friend of Jimmy’s. They were great fishing mates. I have a chat to Tom, who is there with his wife, Trish. Enjoy a few ‘tinnies’ with two other former Brothers’ coaches, Don Gailer and Gary O’Brien, as well as former players, Bligh Davidson and Noel Russell, both bush lads, who stand for no nonsense. Also there, are the likes of legendary Brothers’ winger, Ian Dauth; my fellow History Committee member, Paul ‘The Ferret’ Hayes; and Rebecca Baguley, the former PA for managing director of the QRL, the late Ross Livermore. Scott Munro and Steve Telfer make speeches. Brothers win both grades – against Brighton and Waterford. The bar stays open until 1 a.m. I’m glad I left as soon as the football was over.
Marie and I bush walk at Colorado Avenue Park, Bardon, and then brunch at nearby ‘Sweetshop’.
Michael Nunn from Ipswich’s Queensland Times newspaper, has done an interview with dual international, Brad Thorn, who said he almost signed with Canterbury Bankstown, at one stage. I never knew that.
Marie and I watch the last three episodes of ‘Singapore Grip’, about the fall of Singapore. In one scene, Australian troops are portrayed as racist opportunists.
1 The tribute to legendary Brisbane Brothers’ strapper, Jimmy Johnson at Gibson Park, Stafford
2 Legendary rugby league halfback, Tom Raudonikis at the Jimmy Johnson tribute
3 A pipe band does its stuff at Gibson Park
4 Brothers’ supporters kick-on.