The Kangaroos survived a combination of English skill and aggression to beat Oldham 22-16 at the ‘ancient’ Watersheddings Ground, to maintain their undefeated record on the tour of England.
It proved to be Australia’s toughest match, outside the Tests, and complaints from Australian coach, Don Furner about the standard of refereeing, did not detract from Oldham’s performance.
It seemed as if it would be the same old story when Australia led 14-2 late in the first half. But the locals hit back with the try of the match by replacement forward, Colin Hawkyard, to make the score 14-8 at halftime.
Oldham got to within two points of Australia midway through the second half, thanks to penalties by half, Ray Ashton and second rower, Mick Worrall, who had had a season with Norths in Brisbane, in 1985.
It took a fine individual effort – a 20 metre dash from the scrum by halfback, Greg Alexander – to put Australia out of the danger zone. But Oldham were not finished. Veteran five eighth, David Topliss, the Oldham skipper, put Australian lock, Stuart Raper through, and he grubber kicked for centre, Des Foy to score. Worrall missed the sideline conversion, as the fulltime hooter sounded.
Raper, the son of legendary lock, Johnny Raper, was one of three Australians in the Oldham side, the others being centre, Gary Warnecke and prop, Bruce ‘Bruiser’ Clarke. Oldham were coached by former Great Britain Test skipper and later coach, Frank Myler.
Australia’s two first half tries were scored by five eighth, Terry Lamb, taking his tour tally to 12 from eight matches. Lamb; fullback, Gary Belcher; prop, Martin Bella and hooker, Ben Elias were Australia’s best.
The first half was marred by two all-in brawls, and, after one, four players were sent to the sin by referee, Kevin Allatt from Southport in Lancashire. The players binned were Mick Worrall, Paul Sherman (Oldham); Martin Bella and Steve Folkes (Australia).
I covered the match for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’, and except for a couple of strange obstruction rulings, I thought Allatt gave Australia a fair go, although Furner thought otherwise.
Two nights before the match, the British Rugby League were left fuming and embarrassed when only six players from the Kangaroo touring party of 26 attended a black-tie boxing night at the Anglo-American Club in Manchester.
British chairman, David Oxley said Australian managers, John Fleming and Gordon Treichel, had told him 18 players would be attending.
“They were the guests of honour,” Oxley said. “Six hundred people, who paid a lot of money, were under the impression the Kangaroos would be there in force.”