FLASHBACK: March 1997

MARCH 1997

Broncos’ Test prop, Glenn Lazarus was left battered, bruised and angry after an incident involving Auckland Warriors’ fullback, Matthew Ridge at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium in the first round of the historic 1997 Super League premiership season.

Lazarus said Ridge, a former All Black, was destined to cause a lot of damage one day, if he continued to try to kick the ball out of players’ hands, as they looked set to score a try.

“He got away with it last year, playing for Manly against the Broncos, when he absolutely stunned Darren Smith by kicking the ball from his hands when a try was on,” Lazarus said, after the Broncos’ 14-2 win over Auckland. “(This time) He made full contact with my head and I have a swollen cheekbone to show for it. He knocked me clean out, and I was in ‘Ga Ga Land’ for a while. I didn’t know what I was doing after taking the knock, but I’m sure I would have scored if he hadn’t kicked me. He apologised, but it’s a bit late after the damage is done. I think he has to take this little tactic out of his repertoire, or someone will get hurt.’

The Broncos’ big off-season signing, Anthony ‘The Man’ Mundine was injured, but it happened in a regulation tackle, with the former St George star staying down with an ankle injury, which saw him taken to the dressing rooms on a medicab. In his 35 minutes on the field, he had dazzled with his footwork and slick passing, much to the delight of the crowd of 42,361.

Mundine’s former St George teammate, Gorden Tallis also was making his ‘premiership’ debut for the Broncos, after sitting out the 1996 season because of a dispute with the Dragons and the Australian Rugby League. There was no peace settlement in the Super League War at the end of 1996, so there were two competitions in 1997 – Super League’s Telstra Cup and the ARL’s Optus Cup.

In his first hit-up against the Warriors, Tallis was back slammed by British Test star, Denis Betts and Kiwi international, Stephen Kearney. Tea Ropati was on the receiving end of Tallis’s first tackle, and Ropati took a while to recover.

Michael Hancock, Steve Renouf and Brad Thorn were Brisbane’s try scorers, with Darren Lockyer landing one goal from three shots. Ridge kicked the Warriors’ goal.

Ridge wasn’t the only former All Black in the Warriors’ line-up, with Marc Ellis playing in the centres.

Lockyer had been in doubt after being injured at training, copping an elbow to the head from skills coach, Gary Belcher. Because he was concussed, the then 19-year-old Lockyer was excused from the final training run. St George (Sydney) signing, Michael De Vere had been placed on standby for Lockyer, and also was told he would inherit the goal kicking duties. De Vere, 20, had joined the Broncos in 1996 after writing to coach, Wayne Bennett asking for a chance, because he feared for the future of St George.

The Warriors had gone into the match on the back of drama across the Tasman, with foundation chief executive, Australian, Ian Robson having resigned. Robson was a strong supporter of the club’s Australian coach, John Monie, but the club issued a statement saying Monie would remain at the helm for the next two years.

Auckland won the reserve grade match 13-12 thanks to an Aaron Whittaker penalty goal, but the Broncos won the Mal Meninga Cup (under-19) match 38-18.

Wynnum-Manly announced they had signed Leon Yeatman, after he was cut by the Broncos.

Brisbane’s cross town (ARL) rivals, South Queensland Crushers were reeling from financial woes, with the players being promised they would be paid monthly, and in-full, after receiving only 65 cents in the dollar in 1996.

Recently retired skipper, Trevor Gillmeister was told it was unlikely the club would be able to give him his hoped for, fulltime role as a liaison officer, acting between the players and coaching staff and administration.

Gillmeister said he was told when he joined the Crushers from Penrith in 1995, he would have a job for life at the club. But new chief executive, Eric Laasko had told hm money was scarce.

“(Coach)Steve Bleakley and (trainer) Kelvin Giles said they wanted me badly, but after what happened last year (with reduced payments) I wasn’t going to do it for nothing,” Gillmeister told me. “My life is pretty well organised now (away from football).”

Gillmeister had landed roles with Channel 7 and Castlemaine Perkins (XXXX).

The ARL’s Optus Cup season was to start a week after Super League, with the Crushers to play the Roosters in Sydney.

Other First round results in Super League were: Canterbury 20 Hunter 16 in Newcastle (crowd 6,579); Cronulla 26 Canberra 4 in Sydney (22,683); North Queensland 24 Adelaide 16 in Townsville (17,738); Penrith 30 Perth 20 at Penrith (8,398).

Gorden Tallis

Trevor Gillmeister

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