After having covered the funeral of the great Arthur Beetson, in December, 2011, it was somehow fitting that my first big task in 2012 was to cover the All Stars match at Skilled Park, Robina, with the Indigenous side captained by Johnathan Thurston, like ‘Artie’, a great leader.

Beetson was the first indigenous man to captain Australia in any sport, his first time in charge of the Kangaroos a Test against France in Toulouse in 1973, a side which included the likes of Bob Fulton, Mick Cronin and Tim Pickup. Artie went on to captain Australia in seven more Tests.

The emotion surrounding the passing of ‘Big Artie’ was a huge motivational force for the Indigenous side, not that they needed any prompting to excel, because there was deep pride in the wearing of the jersey.

I checked-in at the Crowne Plaza, Surfers Paradise, where the Indigenous squad was assembling, on Saturday, January 28. Coach, Laurie Daley had brought with him the likes of Ron ‘Rambo’ Gibbs, Mal Cochrane and Cliff Lyons to help prepare the side. Cochrane, who won a premiership with Manly in 1987, hails from Taree, and knows Englishman, Brian Atherton, who was my captain-coach at Murwillumbah Brothers in 1973, before moving to the Manning.

Mal and I had a great chat about ‘Blakey’, as Brian is known, because of his resemblance to the character from ‘On the Busses’.

“He would give you the shirt off his back,” Cochrane said.

Noted Sydney journalist, Dean ‘Bulldog’ Ritchie texted Daley, from the Harbord Hotel, as I chatted to Laurie. Bulldog and ‘Lozza’ are great mates, with ‘Bulldog’ his ghost writer for some time.

The Indigenous team’s first training run took place at Broadbeach Soccer Club the next day, with Shan Veivers there to cover proceedings for local TV. She is the daughter of former Test forward, Mick ‘The Farmer’ Veivers. Mick and I appeared together on Channel 7’s Sportscene in the early 1980s.

I had the pleasure of interviewing interchange player, Anthony Mitchell, who was taught by our son, Damien at Townsville’s Kirwan High School. ‘Ricko’ he calls Damien.

The NRL All Stars arrived on the Gold Coast on Tuesday, January 31, and there was a photo opportunity at the viewing platform at SkyPoint, with coach, Wayne Bennett and players, Benji Marshall and Cooper Cronk. The likes of Andrew Webster, Brad Walter and Ian McCullough from the ‘southern’ media, had arrived at this stage, and we were all guests of the NRL for dinner at Moo Moo Steakhouse, Broadbeach that night.

Socially, I also spent time with the likes of Gorden Tallis and Wendell Sailor, who are proud of their indigenous heritage. They were interested to learn about my former coach at Murwillumbah Brothers’ Ron Saddler, who captained New South Wales in 1968. They knew little about this Sydney Roosters’ legend, an indigenous man who came from the Riverina, but represented New South Wales Country from the Tweed, before being signed by Easts (Roosters). Ron, who toured Britain and France with the Kangaroos in 1967-68, was living in Murwillumbah in 2012, and was not in the best of health. He died in 2016.

A near capacity crowd of 26,039 rocked up for the All Stars’ match on February 4, and the Indigenous team led 18-6 early, and 22-12 at halftime, but went down 36-28. Indigenous winger, Nathan Merritt from South Sydney, scored two tries and was named man of the match. Benji Marshall was magnificent for the NRL selection, kicking six goals and setting up the match sealing try for fellow Kiwi, Manu Vatuvei, seven minutes from the end. It was a fast game, with only five penalties, something no doubt appreciated by the record national television audience of 1.3 million.

There was plenty of passion with NRL All Stars prop, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves walking a fine line at times, with his aggressive approach.

The only down side were injuries to Indigenous centre, Greg Inglis and NRL centre, Brent Tate. Inglis was on crutches the next morning at breakfast.

Arthur Beetson unloads under pressure from Englishman, Keith Bridges and Joe Walsh in 1975

The NRL All Stars celebrate

Ron Saddler in action for the Roosters in 1968.

2 responses to “FLASHBACK: JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012

  1. Only person I ever asked for an autograph was Greg Inglis. There he was in a rather empty afternoon
    departure lounge at the Brisbane airport, keeping low key the day after he had played in Darren Lockyer’s last performance in a maroon jersey. At the departure newsagent, I grabbed the last remaining newspaper, one with a front page photo of Lockyer holding the Shield above is head in triumph, and Greg happily signed the photo with his own suggestion, “Arch, Best Regards, Greg Inglis”. He didn’t have to but he graciously did and did so pleasantly. Thanks Greg. I might get another autograph one day off someone but if I forget to, I’m happy with this beauty. It’s a great front page, time capsule.

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