Wests Panthers emerged as the new glamor team of the Brisbane Rugby League competition, regularly drawing crowds of 15,000 to 20,000 to Lang Park, and capturing the imagination of fans with attacking football, and a host of stars, headlined by Richie Twist, Rob ‘Yogi’ Thompson and Wayne Stewart.
Twist was an exciting attacking second rower, tipped for Test honours by scribes of the time, while blond haired Thompson, a centre or winger, had been chosen for Australia in 1970. Stewart, a deadly goal kicker, was also a fine finisher, and he was destined to play Test football later in the 1972 season.
Wests’ match against Souths at Lang Park on May 7, 1972 drew a crowd of 21,000, a record for a club match, apart from finals. The Panthers were down 10-0 at one stage, but urged by on by their raucous, chanting fans, won 17-12, to maintain their undefeated record.
The match had everything – wild punch-ups; brilliant backline play, and courageous defence. Wayne Stewart scored a magnificent 50 metre try with 10 minutes left, and converted from the sideline to give Wests their final five-point margin.
Referee, Henry Albert showed remarkable restraint, choosing not to send anyone off, after fists flew in the first 30 seconds of the match. After that Albert issued cautions on the run, ensuring both teams finished with 13 men.
Souths were unlucky not to lead 18-0, with Fijian flyer, Asaeli Batibasaga set to score before a desperate tackle by Wests’ fullback, Kev Denman forced the ball free. Souths’ fullback, Gary Dobrich made an equally vital tackle, bundling Wests’ centre, Eric Robinson into touch, just before the corner post.
This match had many stars, but none shone more brilliantly than Wests’ lock, Nev McDonald, who won The Courier-Mail $25 Best and Fairest Award.
Wests and Souths were regarded as two of the competition’s fittest sides, with Peter Moore (Souths) and Col O’Brien (Wests) in charge of training. Wests’ coach, former Test fullback, Norm Pope, hired O’Brien to concentrate on fitness, while he looked after teamwork and coaching. (In those days, many coaches took on the fitness side, as well as ‘football’ aspects of coaching and training).
O’Brien, described as “a physical education graduate and fulltime physiotherapy student”, had been in charge of the Queensland Rugby League’s Live-In, Intensive Training Camp at Lang Park, in 1971.
Norths battered their way to a 13-4 win over Brothers at Bishop Park, with Norths’ State prop, Len Dittmar left with a fractured cheekbone, after a melee. Dittmar and Norths’ prop, Peter Hall clashed early in the match, and soon after Dittmar was flattened by several Norths’ players, no doubt out for revenge on behalf of Hall. Norths’ best was second rower, Glen Harrison (uncle of State of Origin star, Ash Harrison), while Brothers’ captain/coach, Test lock, Col Weiss, tackled tirelessly. Dittmar’s injury saw him withdraw from the South Queensland representative side to play New South Wales Country.
State halfback, Lee Hutchinson spearheaded Easts’ 31-13 win over Wynnum-Manly at Langlands Park, setting up two of the Tigers’ five tries. He also landed eight goals from eight shots. Two of Easts tries were scored by winger, Bruce Hatcher, the current (2022) chairman of the QRL.
The shock result of the round was Redcliffe’s 17-2 win over premiers, Valleys at Neumann Oval, with Ian Thinee and Paul Morgan magnificent in the rucks for the victors, while halfback, Alan Henrick was outstanding in all aspects of the game, and overshadowed his rival, Ross Threlfo.
The day before the round of Brisbane club football, the Brisbane representative side played Toowoomba in the Bulimba Cup Final at Lang Park, with Brisbane’s 55-2 win effectively signalling the demise of the famous inter-city competition.
Wests’ stars, Wayne Stewart and Richie Twist scored 34 points between them, with Twist crossing for four tries, while Stewart kicked 11 goals from 13 shots. The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon rated halfback, Dick Rose the best of a Toowoomba side which also boasted Australian winger, Wayne Bennett; State reps, Graham Tucker and Ron Beauchamp and future Test forward, Greg Platz.
While Sydney clubs were poaching Queensland’s best players, it was also the case that Brisbane clubs were taking the best players from the Ipswich and Toowoomba competitions. Brisbane, coached by Henry Holloway, went through undefeated in the 1972 Bulimba Cup.
In other news of the time, Barry Spring returned to Australian rules from rugby league, signing with Windsor-Zillmere. Spring switched to rugby league in 1969 and helped Norths to the Brisbane premiership that season. Field goals were worth two points in 1969, and Spring, like Eric Simms in Sydney, potted them from everywhere. When the value of field goals was dropped to one point, Spring’s main value in league was effectively stymied.
In 1971, Spring played only a handful of first grade games, and started the 1972 season in the lower grades. At the time that Spring returned to Australian rules, Sandgate headed the club premiership ladder. In rugby union, Teachers and Brothers shared top spot, while Hellenic led the soccer table. It was interesting to see some of the names of clubs in the First Grade soccer – Azzurri, Hollandia, Polonia, Thistle – based on overseas affiliations. Oxley and Bardon were two of the district clubs.