FLASHBACK: February 1997

FEBRUARY 1997

Parramatta coach, Brian Smith tipped Super League’s much hyped World Club Challenge competition to be a fizzer with Australian fans.

Smith, who had coached Bradford in England, said he expected the English clubs to be hammered, home and away.

And he did not envy the job of coaches of the Australian clubs trying to keep their players’ minds on the job, while in England, given the temptations of the pub and night club scene, and the fact the touring clubs could expect to cruise to victory.

“It was tough enough being in Perth for three or four days when I was coaching St George, and they are a disciplined club,” Smith said.

He went as far as to suggest that the one side nature of the tournament would help bring Super League and the ARL back together, sooner rather than later, because Super League, despite the backing of News Limited, could not afford to stage such a tournament annually, and to abandon it after one season, would be a bad look.

In his 12 months at Bradford, Smith took the club to the top bracket of the English game, with gates rising from an average of 4,000, to 18,000. He tipped the English clubs to benefit financially from the visits of Australian clubs, like Brisbane, Canberra and Canterbury.

“But I can’t see the English clubs competing with the Australian clubs,” he said. “When Australian supporters see a couple of results, where English clubs have been hammered over there, it is not going to ignite interest here, in the visits of the likes of Oldham and Halifax.”

In other news of the time, North Sydney halfback, Jason Taylor was cleared of any wrong doing, after vision emerged of him being escorted from the Sydney Cricket Ground by police during a One Day International at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He attended the game with a number of North Sydney teammates.

“Through it all, I knew the truth would come out,” Taylor said. “But you know the old saying. You sling enough mud and…”.

Taylor, who was promoted as one of the faces of Optus Vision’s coverage of the ARL competition, said he believed some Super League aligned people wanted to see the matter drag on.

“Three Western Reds’ players streaked down the track at a major race meeting in Perth, and we hardly heard anything about that,” he said. “

Gold Coast Chargers’ signing from Keighley in England, Andrew King impressed in a reserve grade trial against South Queensland Crushers at Southport. Casino born, King had played for North Sydney in 1992-95, and then had a season with Gold Coast, before heading to the UK. His younger brother, Matt was still at school at the time, and had a scholarship with Parramatta. He would go on to represent Australia. Oldest brother, Chris, played for Parramatta in 1997.

Footnote: Brian Smith’s predictions re. the World Club Challenge proved correct, with Brisbane Broncos beating Newcastle club, Hunter Mariners in the final, in Auckland. Of the 60 group matches, which pitted 12 Northern Hemisphere clubs against 10 from the South, Australasian teams won all but eight, scoring a total of 2,316 points against 851. Arguably the saddest result was the 70-6 loss by the proud St Helens club, against the Warriors in Auckland, with Gene Ngamu scoring three of the Warriors’ 12 tries. And there was a decent crowd too – 18,500. St Helens made the quarter finals, only to be beaten 66-12 by Brisbane at ANZ Stadum, with Steve Renouf scoring a club record five tries, while Anthony Mundine, Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke each crossed twice. The crowd was 6,438.

Bradford’s Graeme Bradley tackled by Penrith’s Tony Puletua during the 1997 World Club Challenge (picture, Andrew Varley)
St Helens’ profile from the official World Club Challenge Kit

Andrew King.

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