Huddersfield vice-president, Eric Sellers proposed a new competition, featuring the top 16 English clubs, while, at the same time, Blackpool Borough secretary-director, George Lunn pushed for a Summer League.
Sellers, a wealthy industrialist, put forward his idea after Huddersfield’s match against Rochdale Hornets, which saw two Rochdale players dismissed for foul play, taking to eight the number of Hornets’ men sent off in the 1965-66 winter season.
An indignant Sellers wrote to Rochdale chairman, Arthur Walker, who had been appointed co-manager of the British Lions’ team to tour Australia and New Zealand, later in 1966.
“The spectacle we had to witness last Saturday was the worst exhibition of ill-temper, downright chagrin, and malevolence I have seen on a Rugby field,” Sellers wrote. “These sort of situations have relegated rugby league into the category of all-in wrestling, with the added disadvantage of injuries. I am vice-president of the club and am determined to discontinue being part of asking 13 decent young men to be subjected to such disgusting degradation”.
The Huddersfield team of the time included ‘supreme scrummager’, Don Close; former Bristol rugby union star, Richard Wallace; home town hero, Ken Senior and Brisbane Easts’ recruit, Bob Hagan, who had played for Australia against Great Britain in 1962, and against New Zealand in 1963.
Sellers said a new competition would have, as its charter, the pledge to play ‘open, clean and attractive Rugby’.
Rochdale, it seems, would not be part of the new ‘Super League’.
Mr Lunn, from lowly Blackpool, wanted the competition suspended between November and February, traditionally the worst months for wild weather. Instead, he wanted the new season to begin on February 11 and finish on November 11, with the Wembley Challenge Cup final to be held, as usual, in May.
“Summer rugby league would lead to more profits, and more spectator interest,” Lunn surmised.
As things transpired, Summer Rugby League did not become a reality until 1996, something forced on the game by England’s alignment with the Rupert Murdoch backed Super League. Murdoch wanted product for the summer months, given there was already plenty of soccer and rugby union to go round in winter.
‘Summer Rugby’ has been successful, but, traditionally, it has kicked off in the depths of winter – early February. The weather can be grim in the UK, right up until early or mid-April, so I am sure many Australians going to England to play Summer Rugby, have wondered what the hell has hit them.
Back to March, 1966. Excitement was building in Australia ahead of Great Britain’s tour later that year, with Swinton lock, Dave Robinson, 21, earmarked for greatness. Robinson had made his Test debut for Britain against New Zealand in 1965, a match which finished in a 9-9 draw.
Top English coach, John Whiteley from Hull, was impressed with Robinson’s all-round ability, after watching him play an under-24 international against France.
“It’s a long time since I’ve seen any of that old-fashioned covering from a loose forward,” Whiteley said. “He worked away, tackling the French pack right to the finish, and still found time to put in some powerful runs.”
In other news from March, 1966: Sydney’s St George club donated jerseys, shorts and socks to the RAAF team, playing in the Commonwealth Forces rugby league competition in Malaysia. RAAF played against teams from the British Army and the RAF.
In Brisbane, Wests’ star, Don Oxenham announced his retirement and was appointed reserve grade coach.
Kiwi star, Reg Cooke, 26, was appointed Souths’ captain-coach.
“He (Cooke) has a very sharp tongue, which I think is a good thing in a captain-coach,’ wrote Souths’ (anonymous) scribe in ‘The Rugby League News’. The price of the program had doubled – from five cents to 10 cents, the first increase in 16 years.
1 Huddersfield hooker, Don Close, a product of the Allerton Bywater amateur club
2 Huddersfield’s former Bristol rugby union star, Richard Wallace.