QUEENSLANDERS John Ribot, Kerry Boustead and Paul McCabe were outstanding playing for their adopted state, New South Wales in the first match of the 1981 inter-state series, at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
Ribot, who had moved to Sydney from the Valleys’ club in Brisbane at the end of the 1977 season, scored the only two tries of the night in the Blues’ 10-2 win, in front of a sell-out crowd of 35,000
The Wests Mitchelton junior had been switched from lock to the wing by his coach at Wests in Sydney, Roy Masters, and it proved a master stroke, with Ribot going on to play nine Tests for Australia in the position.
McCabe sent Ribot on his way for his first try against Queensland in 1981, while the second came from an intercept, with Ribot running 75 metres to score.
Veteran NSW centre, Mick Cronin proved a handful for the defence, and was able to unload neat passes, even with three or four tacklers swarming over him.
Queensland’s best was Brisbane Souths’ second rower, Chris Phelan, a product of Townsville Souths.
Captain-coach, Arthur Beetson turned in a fine performance, and was involved in a wild punch-up with NSW prop, Craig Young just before halftime. Young left the field for the interval, with blood streaming from the mouth.
Aside from Phelan and Beetson, Queensland’s other top performers were halves, Ross Henrick and Wally Lewis and forwards, Norm Carr and Bryan Niebling. Lewis made a memorable front-on, try saving tackle on the Blues’ dual international lock, Ray Price.
The Blues best were Price, Steve Mortimer, Greg Brentnall; Cronin and the three Queenslanders. The match was particularly sweet for Mortimer, who, four years earlier had been replaced by Tom Raudonikis late in a match at Lang Park, with the Maroons seemingly on the road to victory. Raudonikis turned around the Blues’ fortunes, and Mortimer’s representative career was put on hold.
The inaugural State of Origin match had been held at Lang Park in 1980, and, despite its success, it was decided to stick with the residential inter-state format in 1981, and to only play an Origin match if one State won the first two matches.
NSW won the return match in Sydney 22-9, so an Origin match was held on July 28, 1981, with Qld winning 22-15. In 1982, Origin became a best of three series.
The 1981 inter-state series was the first that I covered for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ newspaper, having joined their sports department earlier that year, serving alongside veteran scribe, Harry Jefferies.
I arranged a photograph of Boustead, Ribot and McCabe leading up to the first game. I also spent a day in camp with the Queensland side, right from their pre-breakfast run, to a trip to Seagulls at Tweed Heads, and then back to the Terrace Hotel in Brisbane that evening. The players chose either steak or barramundi for breakfast. I stuck to corn flakes.
After the match, I rated Wally Lewis and Chris Phelan Queensland’s best chances of gaining a Test berth against France in July.
I interviewed Ribot, after his two try effort.
“I was proud to wear the New South Wales jersey,” he said. “I’m a professional. I was out there to win.”
Phelan told me he was humbled by the effort of 35-year-old Beetson.
“I reckon I’m pretty fit, but towards the end of the game it was hard to keep going,” Phelan said. “When I saw Artie taking the ball up, I said to myself: ‘If that old bastard can do it, so can I.”
In Brisbane club football in early June, 1981, referee, Jim Ward sent off Easts’ players, Bruce McLeod and Greg Holben in a bitter clash at Langlands Park.
Prop, McLeod got his marching orders in the 34th minute, after Valleys’ hooker, Russell Denman was flattened, and 60 seconds later skipper, Holben joined McLeod in the dressing room after Valleys’ prop, Lindsay Gill was felled. Easts’ lock, Zac Sarra (now a magistrate) was cautioned four times, and spent 10 minutes in the sin bin. Valleys led 10-2 at halftime, and should have romped home against the 11-man Tigers, but ultimately won 22-11.
At Corbett Park, Grange, bottom side Brothers beat premiers, Norths 22-13 with halfback, Greg Smith and prop, Phil Hortz the best for the victors.
At Davies Park, West End, Souths scored three tries to one in their 17-9 win over competition leaders, Redcliffe, with Chris Phelan turning in another outstanding effort, after his heroics for Queensland. Redcliffe rested captain-coach, Beetson, at the urging of selector, John Barber.
Souths’ halfback, Neil Wharton suffered a broken collar bone, but his second half replacement, Bill Argeros proved one of the Magpies’ best, saving three tries with last ditch tackles.
In the other match, Wynnum-Manly thrashed Wests 33-10 at Lang Park, with lock, Ian French scoring two tries, while fullback, Colin Scott finished with 17 points from a try and seven goals. It was Scott’s best club game since moving to Brisbane from Souths in Townsville the previous year. He was pushed for man of the match honours by another North Queensland import, prop, Greg Dowling from Ingham, who was part of the 17-man Queensland squad, but failed to make the cut for the final 15. Wests’ best was prop, Ray Baumber.
In the Tooth Cup knockout competition, indigenous winger, Larry Corowa scored three tries in Balmain’s 21-5 win over Eastern Suburbs Roosters at Leichhardt Oval.
In New Zealand, France beat South Island 16-12 in the first match of their Southern Hemisphere tour.