DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 14 2021
MONDAY, APRIL 5
Yorkshireman, Ray Knight played rugby league in Christchurch, New Zealand, packing down as a hooker between Kiwi Test props, Bill Noonan and John Greengrass. Ray lives in Brisbane now, and supports Norths Devils, although he does not go to the football as much as he once did.
“Too many rule changes have spoiled the game for me,” he says. “Getting rid of scrums (in the UK Super League) was the final straw.”
I loved watching football at Lang Park with Ray and another Englishman, Paddy Hart, who hails from Widnes in Cheshire, although Paddy will tell you it’s really part of Lancashire, and Widnesians have nothing in common with Cheshiremen.
To be in the company of Paddy and Ray was to enjoy endless witty comments, as well as great insights into the game of rugby league. Ray simply called Paddy ‘Widnes’, and Paddy called Ray ‘Huddersfield’. Today Ray has commented on one of my Flashbacks on this website, which mentioned a wild match between Rochedale Hornets and Huddersfield in 1966, just before Ray moved to the Southern Hemisphere. Ray was at that game and he says it was ugly, with Rochdale’s Fijian imports in the thick of things. On Huddersfield’s players, Ken Senior, later captain-coached Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley district of New South Wales, but went home after breaking his jaw.
In the late 1970s early 1980s, Ray and Paddy rated Brisbane club football just as physical as England, and possibly a little faster. But they were disappointed with the lack of skilful ball handlers compared with the UK. They also rued the lack of an enforcer in many teams, and the freedom to move which players like Valleys’ pair, Ross Strudwick and Wally Lewis enjoyed.
Learn of the passing of Bob Smith, who, with his wife, Daphne, came on my 1990 and ’94 Kangaroo Supporters Tours. Bob was great company, and, as a book binder, suggested I write a book about our first tour in 1990, and he would put it together for the members of the group – 33 people in all, including my parents, Jon and Lola Ricketts. The first mention of Bob in the book referred to our first day on the road, from Heathrow Airport, when we called into the Hindhead Hotel, Devil’s Punchbowl, Surry, for lunch, on our way to our overnight stop at Portsmouth. (See ‘Can I have Ice with That’ on this website).
This is what I wrote: ‘In the pub, the delights of brews such as Badger Best Bitter, Tanglefoot and Tetley’s were presented to the Aussie Philistines. One or two brave souls went for the bitter (instead of lager), with Bob Smith demanding that ice cubes be added to his pint.”
I hear a great yarn about former Manly, New South Wales and Australian hooker, the rough and tumble Fred Jones, when he met conservative Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. Evidently, Fraser asked Jones his occupation. When he said ‘Wharfie’, the PM replied: “I have friends on the wharf,” to which Jones responded. “I haven’t met any”.
My wife, Marie and I watch the running of the historic Stawell Gift in Victoria. Edward Ware wins the men’s, while Hayley Ormond, a ‘cheese-ager’ from South Australia, is first in the ladies. Grace Kelly, 14, was a finalist.
TUESDAY, APRIL 6
A woman driving a furniture removal truck rear ends our Subaru XV at Tarragindi. My wife, Marie was driving to a physio appointment when the accident occurred, in wet conditions. The Subaru is towed to Pinkenba and could be a write off. Thankfully Marie was not hurt. It was pretty obvious the driver of the truck was going too fast, down a hill, and/or not paying attention.
‘Insanity Streak’ cartoon in The Courier-Mail has a joke about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I have no problem with it, but I wonder if the cartoonist, Tony Lopes would be brave enough to do one about an Islamic story.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7
Tom Raudonikis, one of the great characters of rugby league, has died, aged 70. It was a miracle he made it that far, given his full-on approach to life and his recent battles with cancer. South Sydney coach, Wayne Bennett toured New Zealand with Tom in the 1971 Australian side, and says it was an eye opener for a young copper from Toowoomba. Tributes flow thick and fast. I have my own tribute on this site, titled: ‘Tom Terrific Could Not be Caged’.
THURSDAY, APRIL 8
Someone on ABC Show ‘The Drum’, mentions that votes from women, for the LNP, have been falling for the last two decades. I suppose there is documented proof of this.
Radio TAB have a nice interview with former Queensland State of Origin winger, Chris Walker who is on a charity walk from Cairns to the Gold Coast. 4BC’s Ray Hadley interviews former coach, Roy Masters about Tom Raudonikis and the times they had at Wests Magpies and in subsequent years. Former Test halfback, Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer sheds a few tears when he is interviewed about Tommy, by FoxSports’ Matt Russell, before the Broncos v South Sydney game. ‘Alfie’ played under Tommy at Ipswich, and said Tom taught him how to win.
At Grange Library Park, a lady (surname Elwell) says her husband, Josh, a teacher at St Peter Claver, is involved with Met West Rugby League. She and her daughter support the Sydney Roosters. When I hear the name Elwell, I immediately think of former Great Britain hooker, Keith Elwell, who played 591 games for Widnes, including an unbroken streak of 239 games.
FRIDAY, APRIL 9
Gold Coast Titans’ chairman, Dennis Watt says the Gold Coast Suns Aussie rules club “wants to own the area”. Dennis, a great friend of the late Tom Raudonikis, says the Titans hired a bus to take the players to Tom’s place at Paradise Point in 2019, and he gave them an inspirational speech. A win followed.
International travel expert, Euan Landsborough is guest speaker at Beer and Beef Club lunch at the Morrison Hotel, South Brisbane. David Weale from wine provider, ‘Andrew Peace’, is a friend of former Brisbane Wests’ utility back, Andy Dale, one of the nice guys of rugby league. ‘Green Beacon’ is the guest beer at the lunch. At a committee meeting before the lunch, I was honoured with Life Membership of the Beer and Beef Club. (see ‘Brisbane Beer and Beef Club’ this website).
North Queensland Cowboys’ Test utility back, Michael Morgan announces his retirement. It only seems like yesterday when I was interviewing him and his family at the Crown Plaza, Coogee, for ‘The Courier-Mail’ after covering his debut the previous night in the Cowboys’ 32-14 win over the Roosters.
SATURDAY, APRIL 10
Wake to the news The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip has died aged 99. I met the Queen in 1970 (see ‘Captain Cook Bi-Centenary 1970’ on this site) but not the Duke, or ‘Phil the Greek’ as my father, Jon called him.
Charleville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Legal Service Regional Manager, Laurie Parker and I have a lovely chat over coffee in the Queen Street Mall, with rugby league the main topic. There is a ‘deaths in custody’ protest in King George Square and police are converging on the area. On my bus, two people, one a loud Anglo-Celtic female and the other a young, overweight Polynesian male, are not wearing (covid) masks as per the edict of the day. The women lights-up a cigarette the moment she is off the bus.
At Gibson Park, Stafford, the home ground of Brothers’ Rugby League, teams participating in a double header – Brothers, Brighton and Deception Bay – observe a minute’s silence for Tom Raudonikis (a former player and coach of Brothers), and also former Queensland forward, Bob Duncan, whose son, Andrew is heavily involved with Brothers. Bob, a Toowoomba product, died on April 4. Broncos’ coach, Kevin Walters is in the crowd, and catches up with some of the Brighton players.
SUNDAY, APRIL 11
Marie and I walk the foreshore at Margate and Woody Point in Redcliffe City. In the Gayundah Coastal Arboretum here is a memorial to athletics coach, Jack McGuire, who moved to Redcliffe from Sydney and trained kids on the foreshore at Margate and Woody Point.
Wests Tigers retire the number seven jersey for the match against the Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval, in honour of Tom Raudonikis. A jet flies over during the minute’s silence, fitting indeed, when you consider Tom played for Newtown Jets in the 1981 Grand Final. There is a standing ovation at the seven-minute mark for Tom. The Tigers are down 28-6 at halftime and are booed from the field by the fans. They lose 34-30. People are drinking VB on the hill and there is no crowd trouble.
News breaks that former Test forward, Craig Fitzgibbon will replace John Morris as Cronulla coach next year.
Channel 9 commentator, Phil ‘Gus’ Gould says if you are not living in Sydney, you are camping out. Perhaps that applies to the beaches and harbour, but elsewhere – no thanks.
There is snow in parts of Victoria and Tasmania. More predictably, there is snow on the North Yorkshire Moors as our English friends, Andrew and Sandy Varley head from Leeds, to their beach house at Sandsend. Salford belt Widnes 68-4 in the Challenge Cup with Frenchman, Morgan Escare and Orrell High School/Bolton University graduate, Matty Costello scoring two tries each. Paddy Hart would be filthy with that result.
Bob Smith (on the right in the green tracksuit) in Scotland in 1990. Lola Ricketts is on the left, wearing a scarf
Attendees at Beer and Beef Club lunch at Morrison Hotel (from left) David Weale from Andrew Peace Wines; MC, Steve Ricketts; club chairman, Don Gailer and former Queensland State of Origin rugby league back, Greg Holben
Teams pay their respects to Tom Raudonikis at Gibson Park, Stafford
Tom Raudonikis (left) and Ken Wilson playing for Newtown
Snow on the Yorkshire Moors.