North Sydney’s block busting winger, George Ambrum made a stunning Test debut for Australia, scoring two tries in the 36-11 win over the ‘world champion’ New Zealand side at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a result which avenged one of the Kangaroos’ most embarrassing losses, just 12 months earlier.
Ambrum, a Thursday Islander, evoked memories of Reg Gasnier, when he scored a try with his first touch in a Test (‘Immortal’ Gasnier had achieved the same feat against the Kiwis in 1959). Tom Raudonikis, Graeme Langlands and Geoff Starling combined to give Ambrum an armchair 10 metre run to the corner. Mark Harris fielded the kick-off and charged up-field, knocking over several Kiwi defenders and referee, Keith Holman in the process.
Ambrum’s second try came in the 16th minute when he intercepted a pass and powered away from Kiwi chasers. Newtown (Sydney) second rower, Gary Sullivan also scored two tries on debut, while his co-second rower, South Sydney’s Bob McCarthy also grabbed a brace. Starling and Bob Fulton were the other Australian try scorers, while Wellington fullback, John Whittaker crossed for the Kiwis’ only try. Langlands kicked six goals for Australia, while Robert Orchard landed four for the tourists. Halfback, Ken Stirling was New Zealand’s best.
The previous time the two teams met was in Auckland in 1971, when New Zealand won 24-3. The Kiwis later embarked on a lengthy tour of Britain and France, where they won both series.
The only survivors from Australia’s embarrassment at Carlaw Parl were McCarthy, Langlands, Fulton and Bob O’Reilly. Some of the Kiwis’ best – the likes of Bernie Lowther, Henry Tatana and Eddie Heatley – had signed with Sydney clubs and were ineligible for Test selection under the ridiculous rules of the day, which specified only home-based players could be considered. (I played against Heatley in 1975, when he was contracted to Wauchope and I was on the books at Wingham in Group 3. He later became our milkman at Zillmere in Brisbane. But I digress).
The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon criticised Australian halfback, Tom Raudonikis for not giving his outside backs room to move, and for hampering debutant five eighth, Tim Pickup, who had to go looking for opportunities in broken play.
Reardon said prop, Bob O’Reilly turned in ‘another unspectacular, but wonderfully reliable game.”
Ambrum was preferred to Queensland based wingers, Wayne Stewart, Warren Orr and Wayne Bennett, as well as NSW winger, John Chapman. The 13 for the Test was comprised entirely of Sydney based players with Ambrum, Beetson and Harris, originally from Queensland. Brisbane Souths’ forward, Jim Murphy was a reserve, along with Ted Goodwin from St George in Sydney. Neither player got a run.
Reardon said the disappointing omission from a Queensland perspective was Brothers’ lock, Col Weiss, while Toowoomba’s Graham Tucker and young Ipswich prop, Dave Roderick also had to be considered unlucky.
Bennett told me at a recent Men of League Foundation function at Redcliffe, that he did not consider himself worthy of Test selection in 1972, after having toured New Zealand with the Australian side in 1971. (He did not play in the Auckland Test).
“I lost confidence for some reason, in 1972,” Bennett said. “I didn’t build on the progress I had made the previous year.”
The Kiwis had had a disastrous build-up to the First Test in 1972, losing 26-10 to New South Wales Country at Queanbeyan, with Newcastle halfback, Brian Burke kicking seven goals for Country. The result had an impact on the gate for the Test, with the crowd of 29,714, well below expectations, when the brief tour was announced, to take advantage of the Kiwis’ claims to being the world’s best rugby league side.
The Kiwis went into camp on the Gold Coast after the Sydney loss, in preparation for the return Test at Brisbane’s Lang Park. As a young reporter with the Tweed Daily News, I interviewed New Zealand coach, Lory Blanchard on the team’s arrival at Coolangatta Airport. (Blanchard had played 16 Tests for the Kiwis during a particularly successful period for his country, in the early 1950s).
The following weekend I attended the Test at Lang Park, with my father, Jon Ricketts, and members of the Murwillumbah Brothers club. Australia won 31-7 to regain the Trans-Tasman Trophy.
On the same day as the Country v Kiwis clash, New South Wales’ Public Service side defeated Queensland Public Service 31-0 at Corbett Park, Grange, to wrap up the series, having won the first game 24-14. Corbett Park was the home ground of Brisbane Brothers. On the day of the Public Service match, Brothers’ president, Don Alroe resigned, citing “business and personal reasons” for his decision.