GIVE US A WAVE, GORDIE

Spectators in ‘The Threepenny Stand’ at The Boulevard, Hull were regarded as some of the most knowledgeable and quick witted in the game of rugby league. They could make life miserable for players having an off-night, or for former Hull players returning to the ground in the jersey of a rival club.

It was not unknown for some of those ‘turncoats’ to play on the same side of the field, in both halves, to keep as far away as possible from the Threepenny mob.

I covered Kangaroo tour matches there in 1982 and ’86, and they were both fiery affairs, with Australia winning 13-7 in ’82 and 44-0 in ’86. Australian fullback, Garry Jack was hit by a little old lady when a brawl spilled over the sidelines into the Threepenny Stand area, during the 1986 debacle.

My last assignment at ‘The Boulevard’ was November 4, 2000, when Australia played Russia in a World Cup pool match, with Broncos firebrand, Gorden Tallis captaining his country for the first time.

Australia won 110-4 with the Threepenny Stand well and truly on the side of the Russians, saving their biggest cheer for their only try, scored by Matt Donovan, who was selected for Russia under the grandparent rule.

Russian coach, Evgemi Klebanov said there was a good youth system at home and it was important they saw games such as this, to find out what was required in the international arena.

Those in the Threepenny Stand repeatedly chanted for Tallis to give them a wave, and he eventually obliged.

The trip from my Leeds’ base to Hull was worth the effort, if only for the chance to catch up with the great Colin Hutton, who watched the match from the terraces. Colin was coach of the 1962 British side, which won the Ashes in Australia, and managed the 1982 British team, which was coached by John Whitely.

Earlier that day I had covered the England v Fiji match at Headingley, Leeds with the Poms winning 66-10 against a brave Bati, who had Lote Tuqiri in great form. England coach, John Kear said if his side kept progressing, he believed they could win the tournament.

Covering the World Cup for News Ltd (not just The Courier-Mail) I tried to get to as many matches as possible.

My campaign had started with the England v Australia match at Twickenham on October 28 (see ‘Rugby League Violence at Twickenham’ on this website). The following day, I drove west to Gloucester, a rugby union stronghold, for the New Zealand v Lebanon match.

I caught up with The Independent’s Dave Hadfield from Bolton, (also well-known as George Dunkerley, Rugby League Week’s England correspondent) for an Ushers Ale in the Queens Arms before the match. (Where did Prince Charles have his first drink? In the Queens Arms, of course).

Kingsholm Park was, and still is, home to the Gloucester Rugby Union club. I’m not sure what the media facilities are like now, but they were primitive in 2000, and the rain blew straight into my face as I tried to take notes in the front row of the old wooden stand.

The Kiwis won 64-0 with the game never reaching any great heights. Put it this way. I don’t think any of the local rugger types would have been converted to the 13-man game. Lebanon were coached by colourful Sydney identity, John Elias with the great Arthur Beetson his assistant.

I got a wonderful surprise at Kingsholm. Sitting behind me in the grandstand was Frank Kennedy and his son, Edward, who lived near Cheltenham. Frank, a former bricklayer from Widnes, played rugby league in the Cheshire town. I met him in Australia early in 1974, and we kept in touch, on and off, with 1990 the last time I saw him, when he lived at Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds.

Frank spotted my wife, Marie first, and we had an emotional get-together at half-time.

Marie flew to Ireland on Tuesday, October 31 to catch up with her niece, Kellie Kelly in Tipperary. After dropping her off at Manchester Airport, there was an accident on the Motorway and I detoured through Barnsley. When I got back to Leeds, they were about to close Kirkstall Road because of flooding. Traffic is always chaotic in the north.

The weather was miserable, and I felt miserable, having caught a fever from getting drenched in Gloucester. Still, I had a couple of drinks that night with Australian assistant coach, Steve Anderson and team manager, Steve Bleakley at The Queens, where free XXXX was supplied, given the Brisbane based brewery sponsored the Kangaroos. No Covid then.

Bleakley’s co-manager, Darryl (number 9) Bampton was resting in his room, after a mild case of frost bite. The former South Sydney and Collegians (Wollongong) forward had walked with the players to a nearby gym, wearing only thongs on his feet, even though it was bitterly cold. 

There was a disappointing crowd of just 4,197 for the Australia v Fiji match at Gateshead on Wednesday, November 1, despite a march past of local school kids. Mat Rogers scored four tries for Australia in a 66-8, but Tuqiri stole the show, scoring a try himself and setting up another. Fiji were coached by Don Furner, who played Broncos’ winger, Tuqiri at fullback, on the advice of Broncos’ coach, Wayne Bennett.

Fellow media pack members, Steve Mascord (Sydney Morning Herald) and Maria Hawthorne (AAP) filed their stories in the car, while I drove back to Leeds. Lucky them. I had to stay up late in my room sending my copy back to Australia. Maria, a diligent scribe, got every national newspaper delivered to her room at the Queens. I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express, which was basic compared with the Queen’s.

After Australian training at South Leeds on Friday, November 3, I drove to Dewsbury and Batley for a look around these West Yorkshire league strongholds. I was pleasantly surprised by the ‘grandeur’ of some of the civic buildings in Dewsbury, which was a centre of the heavy woollen industry. 

I also caught up with former Great Britain forward, Brian Lockwood at his pub/brewery, ‘The Boat’ at Allerton Bywater.

The quarter final draw was announced the day after Australia’s match at The Boulevard and Australia was to play Samoa at Vicarage Lane, Watford.

More to come in future posts.

FOONOTE. Our eldest son, Damien played for Queensland Students against Great Britain Universities at The Boulevard in 2001.

England attack Fiji’s line at Headingley in 2000

Colin Hutton meets with Arthur Beetson during a visit to Brisbane in 1982, ahead of the Kangaroo tour of the UK

Steve and Marie Ricketts with Frank Kennedy and his son, Edward in Gloucester in 2000

The Pennines near Dewsbury and Batley

A Dewsbury street

Steve Ricketts (right) with former Great Britain forward, Brian Lockwood at ‘The Boat’, Allerton Bywater

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