In what surely were unprecedented scenes in Brisbane Rugby League, players from the Valleys and Easts’ clubs did an emu bob of Langlands Park, looking for part of player’s ear.
The story, quite understandably, made the front page of ‘The Courier-Mail’.
Jack Reardon covered the Woolies pre-season match for ‘The Courier’, and reported that Valleys’ president, Dr Tom Dooley carried out an emergency operation on Valleys’ winger, Conway, in the Langlands Park dressing rooms. He sewed back the top right portion of the ear, while play continued.
Reardon was told by several Valleys’ supporters and officials the ear was bitten off. Others said it could have been sliced through by the thin edge of a football sole.
“In a fiery incident, just before halftime, Conway was left prone on the ground,” Reardon wrote. “Then players from both sides, and some officials, grouped around the spot where Conway received ambulance attention. Most people thought they were searching for some player’s contact lenses. Later it was learned the search was for the missing portion of Conway’s ear. His teammate, (lock) John Ribot, found it.
“Dr. Dooley said later he was satisfied with the operation, but was unsure of the possible success, because the blood flow in the area was not strong.”
Ribot did well to find the missing portion of ear, given how long the grass was at Langlands park, after a hot, wet few weeks.
Conway had joined Valleys that year from the Newcastle competition, where he had played for Waratah Mayfield, the same club as Valleys’ legend, Ross Threlfo. Balmain premiership winning forward, John Spencer had coached Conway prior to his move north.
Conway was a young constable in the Queensland Police Service, based at Woolloongabba, when he ran out for Valleys in 1977. Today he and his wife, Jenny live back in the Hunter Valley.
Mark, who I have go to know through my close friend, Greg Grainger (a former teammate at Murwillumbah Brothers) told me it was his belief the ear was bitten off, and he knows the name of the (alleged) culprit. Conway said Dr Dooley’s operation was a success, but to this day, he is still peeling off bits of the ear.
“I had trained so hard during the pre-season, and the injury set me back a fair bit, as you can imagine,” Conway said. “All I remember (of the incident) is grabbing at my ear because of the searing pain, and the fact there was so much blood. One of my teammates said he saw an Easts’ player spit something out of his mouth, onto the ground.
“I didn’t tell my dad about it, so he got the shock of his life when he picked up the Newcastle Herald, and there was a story in there about the incident. The Courier-Mail came to the police station in the days after the match, wanting to take fresh photos, and all the other coppers wanted to be in the photo with me. I was wearing a beanie on the beat for ages.”
Valleys won the controversial match 27-11, scoring seven tries to three, with big prop, Al McInnes scoring three down the blindside, while Brisbane Wests’ import, Bruce Cameron scored two on the wing.
Easts’ captain-coach, Des Morris, was sent off by referee, Eddie Ward in the second half on a punching charge. It had nothing to do with the Conway incident, although Morris was one of six players sent to the sin bin by Ward, from a flare-up, which occurred as a result of the injury. The other players binned were Steve Farquhar, John Lang (Easts); Bob Clapham, Ross Strudwick and Bruce McLeod (Valleys).
To this day, Morris says he is not sure how Conway’s ear came to be sliced off.
“A lot of people might point the finger (of blame) at John Payne, because ‘Paynee’ had a certain reputation,” Morris said. “But he didn’t have any teeth, so it couldn’t have been him. Otherwise, I don’t really know of anyone in that team who would be capable of such a thing. It’s not something you imagine anyone doing. There were problems with the football boots in those days, in that they developed a sharp edge on the sole, or it could have been a compression injury, from heavy contact.”
Conway joined Booval Swifts in the Ipswich competition in 1978, and in subsequent years played for Wynnum-Manly and Souths back in the Brisbane competition, before switching from the Queensland to the New South Wales Police Service, and returning to the Hunter, where he played for Central Charlestown, Newcastle Souths and finally Maitland. He played under coaches such as former Test halfback, Dennis Ward; former St George forward, Keith Maddison and future South Sydney coach, Ken Shine. His last coach, at Maitland, was New South Wales Country Player of the Year, Neil Moy, a classy centre who played for Wynnum-Manly and also represented North Queensland.
Skilful young prop, Darryl Brohman starred in Norths’ 24-12 win over an injury hit Brothers’ at Bishop Park, Nundah, in the 1977 Woolies competition, scoring a try and setting-up two others. Centre, Wayne Hale scored two tries for Norths.
A vicious all-in-brawl early in the second half saw Norths’ hooker, Nick Geiger sent for the first of two stints in the sin bin. The first incident forced the retirement from the field of Brothers’ five eighth, Dennis Moore, who had joined the club from Kingaroy in the off-season.
Brothers’ ranks had taken a pounding as a result of a trial against Sydney Easts’ at Corbett Park, Grange earlier in the month, with a number of players succumbing to serious injuries.
In the early match of a Lang Park double header, Wests beat Souths 16-10 with fullback, Gary Thomas landing five goals from six shots for the Panthers. Souths scored the try of the match with new captain-coach, Wayne Bennett handling three times in a 50-metre movement, and then beating three defenders to score between the posts.
Redcliffe were too strong for bayside rivals, Wynnum-Manly in the late match, scoring four tries to one in a 16-5 win. Redcliffe captain-coach, Ian ‘Bunny’ Pearce scored a try and kicked two goals. Pearce was appointed to the dual role after the shock resignation as coach of former Test halfback, Barry Muir in the off-season. Wynnum-Manly’s new coach was Dennis Ward.