DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 2 2021
MONDAY, JANUARY 11
‘The Big O’ by Patrick Skene is a captivating read, and has made me look at former New Zealand rugby league Test star, Olsen Filipaina’s career in a different light. He had to face more challenges than I imagined when he moved to Sydney, but he always maintained a sense of dignity, despite the knockers and the people who accused him of being lazy.
The first time I saw Olsen play was the Second Test of the 1978 Trans-Tasman series at Lang Park, in Brisbane. My wife, Marie and I had not long returned from a back packing trip around Europe, and bought tickets for the outer. Australia was never in trouble, in cruising to a 38-7 victory, but Olsen was the one man who caused headaches out wide.
The one criticism I have of ‘The Big O’ is the author’s almost romantic notion of what Polynesian footballers have brought to the NRL. He hints that rugby league was pretty boring before this South Pacific invasion. I certainly dispute that, and, to my way of thinking, there are just as many negatives, as positives, from the NRL’s increasingly Polynesian look. For a start, Polynesians make up one percent of the Australian population, which means rugby league is missing out, when it comes to recruiting from the broader community. Is the perception of rugby league, and, rugby union as well, as codes suited to Polynesians, chasing other athletes to Australian rules and soccer? And I don’t just mean white guys. I’m talking about the indigenous community as well. And what hope is there of getting Asians interested in playing league, given the size differential there? Mind you, that has always been a tough ask.
I’m not begrudging Polynesians their rise to prominence, but I am challenging administrators to look at why the competition does not more broadly reflect the community at large. Participation numbers are down big time, and the quick fix is to recruit from New Zealand and the Pacific.
But, I better let Olsen have the final say.
“I always get excited to see a Polynesian player make his debut or score a try,’ says Olsen in Patrick Skene’s book. “To have so many in the league is a dream, to see that talent blossoming. I always said in my time – to those smart arses who said I was a one off – “you don’t know who Polynesians are now, but you will soon.”
My good mate, Greg Grainger from Maitland sends a photo of the 1974 New South Wales Country side, which includes Lismore Marist Brothers’ prop, Dinny Morton, as well as indigenous star, Les Drew, who Greg says was a special talent, but did not go on with it. The last time I saw Dinny was at Lismore Golf Club, must be a decade ago.
Marie and I watch 2006 Australian movie, Kenny. Toilet humour at its finest.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 12
Radio TAB’s Gerard Daffy, a Warrnambool boy, says he has been on the Gold Coast 12 years, and has yet to set foot on the beach. A bit like my former Murwillumbah schoolmate, Jack Kennedy from Dunbible, who went to Cabarita Beach most Sundays, but never got past the pub. “The only way a shark will get me, is if it comes up through the beer tap,” Jack would say.
Marie and I watch a special about Whitney Houston. So sad. We heard Whitney sing at Sanctuary Cove in 1988. We didn’t see her. We could just hear her, as she rehearsed ahead of her stage appearance the following night, at what was billed as ‘The Ultimate Event’. We had taken our three children to see the rock band, The Cockroaches, who would become the Wiggles.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13
The Farmhouse, Kedron serves up excellent food. The fish tacos are superb.
A bloke fishing on Kedron Brook is wearing a mask. I think that is overkill. A cyclist in lycra lets go an enormous fart as he goes by.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 14
Ocean View Winery on Mt Mee is our lunch destination. We choose the chef, Tony Tierney’s selection, which includes corn gougere, goats curd agnolotti and pickled beetroot. Enjoy pilsener made on the estate, as well as Merlot from the South Burnett. Buy meat from Dayboro Butchery on the return trip.
Former New South Wales halfback, Jarrod Mullen signs with Sunshine Coast Falcons to play in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup. Maitland were chasing him to play in the Newcastle comp.
Greg Grainger sends a photograph of Oberon under-18s with future super coach, Craig Bellamy at five eighth. “They filmed Deliverance there (Oberon),” says Grainger. He always has had a sick sense of humour.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 15
Brisbane Men of League Committee meeting at Norths Leagues, Nundah turns into our AGM and Reg Green is elected the new president, replacing Ian Gatenby, who is moving to the Sunshine Coast. Former Queensland forward, Tom Duggan is our new welfare officer, with long serving Vance Rennie to take 12 months off. Former Test winger, John Ribot confirms he will be a guest speaker at our next function at Norths Leagues, the club he owns. John says he urged Australian coach, Frank Stanton to pick Norm Carr, his former Brisbane Wests’ teammate, for the Second Test against France in 1981, after Ray Price was in doubt with injury. Price was declared fit, and, as it turned out, Norm was injured and wouldn’t have passed a medical.
Former St George, Sydney Wests, Parramatta and Redcliffe halfback, Brian Winney says his brother was alerted to my Men of League article about Brian, by former Marists Kogarah classmate, Ted Walton, who played first grade for St George and then Wests. Brian’s son, Ryan, who is now 50, plays pennant bowls in Melbourne. He became a dad four days ago. Brian’s new grandson is named Reginald Harper Winney.
The Courier-Mail’s Confidential Property section has a photograph of Kevin Walters, but the story is about his twin, Kerrod.
Nathan Lyons plays his 100th cricket Test for Australia. He tells great story about phoning his dad to say he was about to make his Test debut. “Dad said, ‘At least you get to play one Test’ and then hung up, no doubt because he was too emotional to go on.
Learn of the passing of former Newtown Jets’ player, Mark O’Brien.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 16
Bundesliga match between Berlin and Leverkusen is so boring, without the atmosphere generated by a packed stadium.
Two ladies on centre path through our town house estate, talk about seeing a whole family of wombats. Not in this area, obviously, unless they were referring to lycra clad cyclists. A little boy says to his dad: ‘The tunnel’s got names all over it’. I imagine he was referring to fresh graffiti underneath the bridge, which is built over the path. I had heard a ruckus in the tunnel earlier.
Paramedics arrive at Enoggera Dam, and accompany a forest ranger into the bush. We are there for a family gathering. Not sure what was going on.
FoxSports cricket commentator, Adam Gilchrist says American fielding coach, Mike Young was a great motivator. ‘Gilly’ and former Australian cricket captain, Allan Border are talking about fieldsman sliding to stop the ball going for four.
Soxagon, the horse owned by my former Sports Editor, Brian Burke, finishes second in the Pacific Fair Cup at the Gold Coast. The horse had won $492,000, up until today.
Former Balmain utility, Olaf Prattl is giving back to rugby league in Port Macquarie, working as a volunteer for Men of League.
Former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league winger, Henderson Gill turns 60.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 17
Former Telegraph photographer, Keith Morris has died, aged 89. Keith was a great, old-school photographer – great personality, more front than a rat with a gold tooth and always bubbly. I enjoyed going on jobs with him, and he took some fine rugby league shots as well. He retired to the Sunshine Coast – Coolum, I think – and said if ever I was up there to call in, something I never did, I’m sad to say.
During the cricket Test lunch break, Doug Parkinson’s ‘Where would we be without AB (Allan Border)’ is played on radio. Former Australian cricket captain, Ian Chappell, commenting on ABC Radio, says that former Australian pace bowler, Graham ‘Garth’ McKenzie was a gentle bloke. ‘Garth’ was my cricket hero in the 1960s.
Brisbane solicitor, Lyle Beaton is writing a book about rugby league in France. Lyle is probably the only Aussie more passionate about league in France, than me.
Redcliffe’s NRL Bid team has a website.