Great Britain’s 1966 Rugby League Touring Squad was given little chance of reclaiming the Ashes in Australia, with only one player in the 26-man outfit having previously been to the Southern Hemisphere.
Giant prop, Harry Edgar had toured with the successful 1958 and 1962 sides, but the shock scratching of superstar, Alex Murphy, allegedly for business reasons, left the side rudderless, in the view of many British critics.
Leeds’ lock, Harry Poole, one of seven tourists who had yet to play Test football, was named captain. The omission of veteran centre, Neil Fox meant the side was to travel without a recognised goal kicker.
Welshman, Gus Risman, who captained the successful 1946 British side to Australia and New Zealand, was scathing in his criticism of the team.
“It is a useful team, I suppose, but it doesn’t sound like a Great Britain team to me,” Risman said. “I know they have had trouble getting the 26 players together, but they are leaving some good ones behind.
“Tommy Smales played in all three Tests against the Kiwis (in 1965) and to leave him out is a great injustice to a fine player. He has been outstanding, all through the season.
“The big weakness in the team is the stand-off half (five eighth). Alan Hardisty is very brittle. I don’t know if he will last the tour. Willie Aspinall has played only half a County game. I don’t know how he got in. In fact, the whole halfback set-up is weak.”
St Helens’ star, Tommy Bishop was regarded as the number one halfback, especially as he had pushed Alex Murphy out of the number seven spot, into the centres, at the famous Merseyside club. Murphy, who was upset when St Helens signed Bishop from Blackpool, had his heart set on captaining the touring side, after he had played under Alan Prescott in 1958 and Eric Ashton in ’62.
Murphy was named in the squad, but despite a push from influential people, missed out on the captaincy. He was running a successful joinery business at the time, and said he wanted to concentrate on that. But there were accusations of sour grapes.
Murphy’s decision not to tour, left him in the international wilderness for five years, with his recall coming in 1971 against the rampant New Zealand side, when he was 32.
Team manager in 1966 was Wilf Spaven, 67, a fish wholesaler from Hull, who was also chairman of the national selection panel, and chairman of club side, Hull Kingston Rovers. Spaven had previously managed two British teams on French trips.
Apart from his fish wholesaling business, Spaven ran a betting shop and a 1500-member social club in Hull, called the ‘Manor Club’.
Hull born and bred, he played rugby league, and almost became a professional boxer, but gave it away as “a mug’s game”.
He fought as a light weight and was paid 15 shillings for his first fight, a six rounder.
“I had more than 20 fights after that, but I could see I wasn’t going to get to the top, so I chucked it in,” he said. “I couldn’t see any profit in getting my head punched in for peanuts, so I concentrated on the fish business.”
In Brisbane club football, in April, 1966, Wests paid tribute to former State lock, Col Weir, who had announced his retirement, and also to Reg Cannon, who was leaving to do his National Service with the Army.
Over the border, the Cudgen Club placed a district record $1,000 transfer fee on North Coast representative five eighth, Claude McDermott, who was looking to join Tweed rivals, Seagulls, or a Brisbane club. In 1965, McDermott had represented North Coast against Canterbury-Bankstown in a State Cup match at Tweed Heads, and also turned in an outstanding effort against Sydney Easts in a trial played at Knox Park, Murwillumbah. McDermott’s older brother, Billy played for Wynnum-Manly and had represented Queensland in 1963.
In Sydney, a University of New South Wales side was admitted to the Presidents Cup (under-21) competition.
Footnote: The 1966 British side won the First Test against Australia in Sydney, but then lost the next two. In New Zealand, the Lions won both Tests.
1 Great Britain’s 1966 squad, which toured Australia and New Zealand
2 Action from the First Test against Australia in 1966. British prop, Cliff Watson breaks free from a tackle by Gary Banks, with Bill Bradstreet the man in cover. Dave Robinson supports Watson.
3 Alex Murphy.