Chev Walker

What did you make of Millennium Magic?
To be honest, I’d have happily played on any old park, because I just wanted to get out there and play another Super League match! In terms of the concept, I think it’s great but maybe the timing wasn’t the best for the fans with us being in the middle of a recession and with it coming so soon after Christmas and just before Valentine’s Day. But the players are so focussed that you don’t notice the empty seats – you just get on with your job.

When approaching you, were the Bulls always happy you’d recovered from your broken leg?
Yes, because I played a couple of reserve games for Hull KR. I was 12 months into my rehab and I’ve really been able to hit the ground running here and I’m lucky that the club have welcomed me with open arms.

You hit the big time at 11 – playing at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final curtain raiser!
We got absolutely spanked by Leigh Schools but it was still a great experience. Leeds were in the main final that year and we got to meet all the players and that made me realise that’s what I wanted to go on and become. It was such an exciting build up because we knew for six months we’d be playing and there was a lot of time for things like fundraising. It was as memorable for me as any final I went on to play in.

What was it like to play Super League at the age of 16?
I was lucky to have Dean Bell as an Academy coach because he made us man up early and bred it into us that if we were selected to play first team then it was because we were good enough. I paid a lot of attention to him and he taught me a lot about the mental side of the game – he was a great coach. I didn’t set targets of playing in the first team, or later on internationals, but when it happened, I went into those games with the mentality that I was good enough to be at that level because I’d been picked.

And a year later you were playing in the World Cup against Australia!
It’s weird looking back because I can’t understand now why I wasn’t daunted to be coming up against Wendall Sailor at such a young age! But it wasn’t like I was being asked to do something completely alien, like play football so I just got on with it. I remember getting into a bit of a scuffle with Wendall as well as I tackled him into touch just after he’d released the ball. It was a great experience.

Was it a wrench to miss out on captaining the England Academy on the 2001 tour down under because you were in the Leeds first team?
Yes it was, but it wasn’t Leeds who pulled me out. I was kept back because I’d been chosen to play for England against Wales. Looking back I probably should have gone on the tour because the chance of captaining your country doesn’t come around very often but playing another full international for England was fantastic too.

This year there will be an England Knights team which will be similar to the England A team you played for in 2002. What do you remember of that?
Well, it cost me another tour! One player was to be chosen from our game against the Kiwis to go into the full Great Britain squad and, even though we all thought it would be a forward, it ended up being me that David Waite chose. So I missed out on the England A tour to Fiji and Tonga and didn’t get on the field for Great Britain.

How do you look back on the events of 2003?
With regret. The reasons I [went to prison] … are very embarrassing to me and I can’t apologise enough for what I did. I’m not one to feel sorry for myself, though, and I went on to have the best year of my career in 2004, probably because what happened made me refocus and realise how close I’d come to losing my career. I still think if I’d been a plumber the punishment wouldn’t have been so harsh – we were made an example of I suppose, but I made the mistake of putting myself in that position. You have to be squeaky clean as a pro on and off the field, and it was a good lesson to learn.

2004 was the year it all came together for Leeds. How instrumental was Tony Smith in that?
The first thing he said to us as a squad was “How many games will you win this year?” In answering I think we hedged our bets by saying that if we won one more game than in 2003, we’d have done alright. But he told us that we were good enough to go unbeaten. We didn’t – we lost twice – but he built us up and gave us belief and four or five games into the season, we thought he might be right. It was the year we realised our potential and I still carry things on board that Tony told us, and I swear by them. He broke the game down into simple terms.

You played for Great Britain in 2004 and 2004 – what do you remember of those experiences?
In 2004 I was disappointed not to get in the centres because I’d had the best year of my career and Martin Gleeson had had that long ban, but he came back into the side. The coach wanted me somewhere else and coming off the bench into the second row – in 2005 as well – I tried to have as much impact as I could.

How different are the two positions?
In attack you run similar lines, but without the ball a back-rower does a hell of a lot more.

Do you regret going to rugby union?
No, I don’t. I would have regretted not going and not knowing. I felt stale at Leeds in 2006 and didn’t want to leave for another Super League team. I was young and wanted to try something different and I didn’t fancy Australia. I was doing OK in union, but, as it was well documented at the time, my girlfriend didn’t settle and that affects you. I had to decide whether to stay down there on my own with her back up here or to come back, and that’s what I did. I actually agreed to join Wigan but Maurice Lindsay became ill and sold the club to Ian Lenagan. Nothing had been signed and I think Wigan wanted to cut back in a few areas and the deal didn’t go through. I was disappointed because I really wanted to play for Brian Noble – he’d tried to sign me from the Rhinos when he was at the Bulls, but I wouldn’t have gone straight to Bradford from Leeds. In the end, it worked out well, because Justin Morgan convinced me that Hull KR were a club goung places.

How did you enjoy your time at Rovers?
I loved the place and it was great to play for such a passionate set of fans. I missed a lot of games through injury but I always wanted to be as involved in the club as much as I could and help out as much as possible.

How good can Kris Welham become?
He should be knocking on the England door pretty soon because he’s got all the attributes a top centre needs. He’s got great balance, he’s pretty quick, he reads the game really well in attack and defence and he can score a try out of nothing. But maybe I shouldn’t big up his international chances too much, because I want to play for England again!

Didn’t you put your hand up for Jamaica a couple of years ago?
I did, but I didn’t want to give up my England chances either. Back then I don’t think that was the case but I think it is now. But if I play really well this season for Bradford and don’t get picked for England, then I’ll certainly consider Jamaica.

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Chev Walker

What did you make of Millennium Magic?
To be honest, I’d have happily played on any old park, because I just wanted to get out there and play another Super League match! In terms of the concept, I think it’s great but maybe the timing wasn’t the best for the fans with us being in the middle of a recession and with it coming so soon after Christmas and just before Valentine’s Day. But the players are so focussed that you don’t notice the empty seats – you just get on with your job.

When approaching you, were the Bulls always happy you’d recovered from your broken leg?
Yes, because I played a couple of reserve games for Hull KR. I was 12 months into my rehab and I’ve really been able to hit the ground running here and I’m lucky that the club have welcomed me with open arms.

You hit the big time at 11 – playing at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final curtain raiser!
We got absolutely spanked by Leigh Schools but it was still a great experience. Leeds were in the main final that year and we got to meet all the players and that made me realise that’s what I wanted to go on and become. It was such an exciting build up because we knew for six months we’d be playing and there was a lot of time for things like fundraising. It was as memorable for me as any final I went on to play in.

What was it like to play Super League at the age of 16?
I was lucky to have Dean Bell as an Academy coach because he made us man up early and bred it into us that if we were selected to play first team then it was because we were good enough. I paid a lot of attention to him and he taught me a lot about the mental side of the game – he was a great coach. I didn’t set targets of playing in the first team, or later on internationals, but when it happened, I went into those games with the mentality that I was good enough to be at that level because I’d been picked.

And a year later you were playing in the World Cup against Australia!
It’s weird looking back because I can’t understand now why I wasn’t daunted to be coming up against Wendall Sailor at such a young age! But it wasn’t like I was being asked to do something completely alien, like play football so I just got on with it. I remember getting into a bit of a scuffle with Wendall as well as I tackled him into touch just after he’d released the ball. It was a great experience.

Was it a wrench to miss out on captaining the England Academy on the 2001 tour down under because you were in the Leeds first team?
Yes it was, but it wasn’t Leeds who pulled me out. I was kept back because I’d been chosen to play for England against Wales. Looking back I probably should have gone on the tour because the chance of captaining your country doesn’t come around very often but playing another full international for England was fantastic too.

This year there will be an England Knights team which will be similar to the England A team you played for in 2002. What do you remember of that?
Well, it cost me another tour! One player was to be chosen from our game against the Kiwis to go into the full Great Britain squad and, even though we all thought it would be a forward, it ended up being me that David Waite chose. So I missed out on the England A tour to Fiji and Tonga and didn’t get on the field for Great Britain.

How do you look back on the events of 2003?
With regret. The reasons I [went to prison] … are very embarrassing to me and I can’t apologise enough for what I did. I’m not one to feel sorry for myself, though, and I went on to have the best year of my career in 2004, probably because what happened made me refocus and realise how close I’d come to losing my career. I still think if I’d been a plumber the punishment wouldn’t have been so harsh – we were made an example of I suppose, but I made the mistake of putting myself in that position. You have to be squeaky clean as a pro on and off the field, and it was a good lesson to learn.

2004 was the year it all came together for Leeds. How instrumental was Tony Smith in that?
The first thing he said to us as a squad was “How many games will you win this year?” In answering I think we hedged our bets by saying that if we won one more game than in 2003, we’d have done alright. But he told us that we were good enough to go unbeaten. We didn’t – we lost twice – but he built us up and gave us belief and four or five games into the season, we thought he might be right. It was the year we realised our potential and I still carry things on board that Tony told us, and I swear by them. He broke the game down into simple terms.

You played for Great Britain in 2004 and 2004 – what do you remember of those experiences?
In 2004 I was disappointed not to get in the centres because I’d had the best year of my career and Martin Gleeson had had that long ban, but he came back into the side. The coach wanted me somewhere else and coming off the bench into the second row – in 2005 as well – I tried to have as much impact as I could.

How different are the two positions?
In attack you run similar lines, but without the ball a back-rower does a hell of a lot more.

Do you regret going to rugby union?
No, I don’t. I would have regretted not going and not knowing. I felt stale at Leeds in 2006 and didn’t want to leave for another Super League team. I was young and wanted to try something different and I didn’t fancy Australia. I was doing OK in union, but, as it was well documented at the time, my girlfriend didn’t settle and that affects you. I had to decide whether to stay down there on my own with her back up here or to come back, and that’s what I did. I actually agreed to join Wigan but Maurice Lindsay became ill and sold the club to Ian Lenagan. Nothing had been signed and I think Wigan wanted to cut back in a few areas and the deal didn’t go through. I was disappointed because I really wanted to play for Brian Noble – he’d tried to sign me from the Rhinos when he was at the Bulls, but I wouldn’t have gone straight to Bradford from Leeds. In the end, it worked out well, because Justin Morgan convinced me that Hull KR were a club goung places.

How did you enjoy your time at Rovers?
I loved the place and it was great to play for such a passionate set of fans. I missed a lot of games through injury but I always wanted to be as involved in the club as much as I could and help out as much as possible.

How good can Kris Welham become?
He should be knocking on the England door pretty soon because he’s got all the attributes a top centre needs. He’s got great balance, he’s pretty quick, he reads the game really well in attack and defence and he can score a try out of nothing. But maybe I shouldn’t big up his international chances too much, because I want to play for England again!

Didn’t you put your hand up for Jamaica a couple of years ago?
I did, but I didn’t want to give up my England chances either. Back then I don’t think that was the case but I think it is now. But if I play really well this season for Bradford and don’t get picked for England, then I’ll certainly consider Jamaica.

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The History of the Golden Boot

Published in Rugby League World in December 2010

THE 25th anniversary of the Golden Boot being awarded to its inaugural winner, Wally Lewis, seems the perfect time to reflect upon an award that crowns a player as the world’s best – the ultimate accolade for any individual. The roll call of winners throws up a list of some of the finest players ever to lace on a boot, and evokes memories of some of their greatest achievements.

Rugby League World, with the blessing of Harry Edgar, the founder of Open Rugby, this magazine’s predecessor, has decided to recognise that while Lewis, and the other early winners, received the award in one year, it was ultimately awarded for their achievements in the previous calendar year. Therefore Lewis will now be now recognised as the 1984 winner, Brett Kenny the 1985 winner, through to Mal Meninga, who becomes the 1989 winner.

The Golden Boot was dropped in 1991 when Adidas stopped their sponsorship. Edgar readily admitted that he struggled for at least three years with international issues that saw the award move too far from what he had initially intended it to be back in the early 1980s. When League Publications Ltd, the publishers of the Monday-morning newspaper, Rugby League Express, which was first published in September 1990, bought Open Rugby from Edgar in late 1998, and changed the name to Rugby League World shortly after, they re-introduced the Boot with Andrew Johns the winner in 1999.

Edgar gives a lot of credit for the birth of the Golden Boot to Peter Deakin, who worked for Open Rugby and who later did such magnificent and groundbreaking marketing work at Bradford in the early Super League years. Edgar explained: “It was in the early 1980s that I thought it would be really good to do. A French football magazine called Onze promoted the ‘Golden Shoe’ which went to the European footballer of the year and it was sponsored by Adidas – it looked great and I thought it would be fantastic if we could do something like that in Rugby League. I’d always wanted to do something on an international basis.

“That’s how the seed of the idea grew. For credibility it had to be the ‘Adidas Golden Boot’, so we started talking to them and after a lot of effort we got them on board to sponsor the world ratings, which we’d been doing for a while. Then we asked them to be associated with the world’s best – the Golden Boot. This was perfect for Peter. He loved a big event and the razzmatazz involved in something like this, and it was down to him that we managed to get Adidas on board. They were heavily into rugby union and didn’t want to touch Rugby League at first.

“Like most things with Open Rugby, I would come up with the idea and I’d pass it onto Peter and off he’d go. I was like the ball-handling lock forward and he was the barnstorming second-rower going through the gap. He had so much energy and he loved the idea. He played a big, big part in it.”

With Adidas on board and the first Golden Boot made, all that was left was to come up with a winner. By 1984 Lewis was such a dominant figure in the Origin arena that he was despised in New South Wales – he was even booed as he led Australia onto the Sydney Cricket Ground for a Test match against Great Britain. The reason he was hated south of the border was simple – he was the principal reason why the Blues had failed to get their hands on the Origin shield in the first five years. In 1984, he produced two of his record eight man-of-the-match awards in the first two games. At club level, Lewis led his new club, Wynnum Manly, to Grand Final success in Brisbane, and he also captained a combined Brisbane side to victory over the Winfield Cup’s Eastern Suburbs in the final of the National Panasonic Cup. They also beat South Sydney, Canterbury and Parramatta along the way as Lewis was crowned player of the series. And that Test against Britain was one of three Ashes wins that year for Lewis’s side while he also captained the Oceania side to an easy victory over the Northern Hemisphere in Paris. He was as convincing a winner of the Golden Boot as you could get.

“Wally was the man and he was such a genuine winner,” said Edgar. “We’d got Australia involved as we had Adidas [the Australian version of the company] and Rugby League Week magazine on board. It worked out perfectly because we wanted the first Golden Boot event to be done around an international match and the only one at the time was Australia against New Zealand in Brisbane. Wally Lewis receiving the award in Brisbane – perfect.

The September 1985 issue of Open Rugby reported: “June 19 was a proud day for Open Rugby magazine – the day an idea first introduced in the magazine some seven years ago came to fruition. The scene was Brisbane’s plush Parkroyal Hotel – the morning after the night before when the giants of the League world from Australia and New Zealand had done battle in a great Test match at Lang Park. The Adidas Golden Boot is to be the symbol of excellence worldwide in Rugby League, and it was fitting that the man who stole the show at this gathering of League people, media men and extremely articulate after-dinner speakers was Wally Lewis, the recipient of the inaugural award.”

Lewis, whose Golden Boot year began in rather inauspicious circumstances as Wakefield, with whom he was guesting for in the Brisbane off-season, lost 14-12 at Hilton Park, Leigh, emailed Rugby League World to say: “Winning the Golden Boot was stunning. Being rated good enough to represent your city (Brisbane), state (Queensland) and country (Australia) is something that ranks among the proudest moments of your life. But when I was informed that I had won the Golden Boot, it was something very special. It was an individual award, and one that left me in disbelief. To see a list of the players being considered for the award guaranteed plenty of pride.

“The only controversial point of the award came just before its presentation. Upon being contracted by Brisbane club Fortitude Valleys, I was signed to a contract by sports footwear company Puma. They were the direct competitors of Adidas. Thankfully the disagreement quickly disappeared and I was cleared to accept the award. It was a high-cut boot that weighed plenty, and still holds a very special place in my trophy room at home. I can remember the photo that was taken after the presentation, and I’m sure I had a beard in those days.”

The next winner was Lewis’s fierce State of Origin rival, Brett Kenny, who prevailed from a shortlist of ten contenders. Despite Queensland’s domination of the interstate scene in those early days, the Blues won eight of the 12 matches that Kenny started at stand-off, and, along with Peter Sterling, he was the golden boy of Parramatta’s four Winfield Cup successes between 1981 and 1986. In 1985 he was hugely instrumental in New South Wales winning the Origin shield for the first time – it was the first series that he played every match in his favoured position. However, it was in England that Kenny enjoyed his finest moments in his Golden Boot year, as he became the first overseas player to win the coveted Lance Todd trophy at Wembley as the stand-out player in the Challenge Cup final with his Wigan side defeating Hull. It wasn’t just any Cup Final; it is widely regarded as the greatest-ever Rugby League contest to be played underneath the Twin Towers. Kenny produced a blistering first half, scoring one try and setting up others in a majestic display as Wigan ran out to a convincing half-time lead. His great Parramatta friend, Peter Sterling, inspired a Hull fightback but the damage was done. In all, Kenny scored 19 tries in a glorious spell at Wigan, and with Lewis enduring a very difficult 1985, Open Rugby plumped for Kenny as their newest winner, although he had to wait until the Kangaroo tour of late 1986 before being awarded the Boot.

“Finding the right time to present the award wasn’t very easy back then,” Edgar continued. “Now the internationals are always tagged onto the back end of the year so there’s an obvious time to do it, but in the 1980s that wasn’t the case. Adidas were keen that we should hold a big event where we could get a lot of media attention but in 1986 we had to wait until the Kangaroo Tour in the autumn, and that’s when Brett Kenny won it for what he’d done the previous year.”

Kenny remembers that he didn’t even know what the award was for, due to the fact that it was still yet to be established. “The Golden Boot was something I didn’t know too much about – I actually thought it was for goalkickers at first! Two gentlemen from the Open Rugby magazine approached me and explained it was for the best player in the world and that was fantastic to hear. I had to keep it to myself until the presentation function, which was pretty hard to do because when you win something like that you want to tell everybody about it. The Golden Boot is a great achievement for any footballer. To be named the best player in the world is a wonderful honour.”

Another Australian was the next recipient and it was another of the Kangaroos’ formidable backline. Balmain’s Garry Jack was the undisputed number-one fullback at state and national level and played a big role in their respective series whitewash wins in 1986. The Blues pulled off the first-ever 3-0 Origin win with Jack scoring a try in the first game, but it was on the international scene that he shone like a beacon. He played nine Tests in 1986 – a figure that seems incomprehensible now – averaging a try a game. Three of his tries came in the Ashes – one in the first game and two in the second – as Australia wrapped up the series with comprehensive 38-16 and 34-4 wins. Jack, another obvious winner, was the first player to receive the Golden Boot live on television.

Jack’s quality as a fullback was noted recently by Australian TV pundit and former New South Wales coach, Phil Gould: “Garry Jack was one of the best I ever saw,” he said. “He would knock you out if he had to, to stop you scoring a try!”

“In 1987 I took the Boot to Australia to present it to Garry Jack,” said Edgar, “and had some fun and games with Customs! The function was a reunion of the Kangaroos from the year before and all the Queenslanders were there because it was a few days before an Origin game in Sydney – perfect.

“The Golden Boot award that year was actually made live on television – that’s how big it had become. We had to interrupt what we were doing because Channel Ten wanted him live on the news and nothing could stop for the news. The whole evening stopped for Garry to go out of the room to be interviewed live on the news, but that sort of publicity was great for us.”

After that Edgar started to experience difficulties with the Australians. “By 1988 I thought it would be great if we could take it to another country,” Edgar recalled. “My dream was to do something in France but it was totally out of the question because Adidas there wouldn’t touch Rugby League. I think part of their unwritten agreement with French rugby union was that they don’t touch Rugby League. So France was a no-go area but New Zealand was different. Adidas New Zealand were really keen and they were happy to put on a big event but, of course, it needed a Kiwi winner. Luckily, there was a genuine winner with Hugh McGahan in such great form for his performances in 1987 when he led the Kiwis to victory over the Aussies in the only game they played that year. He was also in great form in the Winfield Cup for Eastern Suburbs. He was the outstanding choice for the Golden Boot.

“That was the first time we encountered a problem. The Aussies couldn’t believe that we didn’t want to pick an Australian and, in their eyes, it was Sterlo’s turn. Now, nobody was a bigger admirer than Peter Sterling than I, but it was simply Hugh McGahan’s award that year. However the Aussies insisted that it should be Peter so we had to compromise, and so we had a joint award. Personally, I don’t think that works.”

McGahan, however, didn’t seem too concerned that he had to settle for a half share of the award, when he emailed his vote for this year’s award: “Winning or sharing the boot with Peter Sterling was a proud moment for me – firstly to be rated alongside a ‘great’ of the game, but it was also recognition that Rugby League is played outside Australia and that non-Australian players can aspire to the same heights if they believe in themselves and their abilities. It was also confirmation that hard work and sacrificing some aspects of life will be rewarding in many ways, least of all materially.”

Sterling, who was outstanding for Parramatta in 1987 and was man of the match in the second Origin encounter, as well as the unofficial ‘fourth’ Origin game played in America, noted: “It’s probably the greatest honour you can achieve in Rugby League and one I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

The following year saw another non-Australian winner in Britain’s Ellery Hanley. His performances for Balmain Tigers in 1988 were so stunning that they are used as a rather unfair and unrealistic barometer for every Englishman who has since plied his trade down under. Hanley arrived in Sydney mid-season with the Tigers languishing far off the pace, but with Hanley in scorching form in the centres, they finished sixth and qualified for the play-offs on the basis that they had the same points total as the team in fifth – back then points difference didn’t rule a side out of the semi-finals. Having to do it the hard way, they won an unlikely Grand Final berth in sensational style by winning four sudden-death matches all against sides who had finished higher than them. Hanley was in unstoppable form as Penrith, Manly, Canberra and Cronulla were brushed aside, although in the final against Canterbury he fell victim to a Terry Lamb high tackle that saw him leave the field and not return. To this day many believe it was a premeditated attack to leave the Tigers shorn of their main strike weapon, such was his threat to the opposition.

The Yorkshireman then backed up those performances in the 1988 Ashes by scoring a lovely individual try as Great Britain led 6-0 at half-time in the first match and by playing a leading role as his side won their first match against Australia since 1978 in the third Test, a match that was listed by this magazine last year as Great Britain’s greatest result.

“In 1989, given that we’d had Aussie winners as well as Hugh from New Zealand, we were keen to see a British winner, and fortunately for us, there was no doubt at all that Ellery was the deserving winner,” Edgar pointed out. “He was the one man that the Aussies had no argument over after his performances for Balmain and for Great Britain on the Lions tour.

“So there was no argument over him being the rightful winner but, again, problems began because Adidas in this country had more or less dropped out. The guy we’d dealt with who we’d managed to persuade to back us had gone and after that it was the usual PR types who didn’t understand what it was all about and they weren’t sympathetic to us. We couldn’t do anything in this country – it had to be done in Australia.

“By then Channel Ten had got involved as a third party and, like with Garry Jack, they wanted to present it live on TV, but this time not at a function but at a game. This was in 1989 and Ellery was back in Australia with Wests. The chosen game was up at Newcastle, where Ellery had to drive there from Sydney to be presented with the award. Channel Ten got their live moment and we got plenty of publicity but I don’t think Ellery was too impressed because he’d been at the functions for the other winners, and all he got was a pitchside presentation – and I could sympathise with that.”

It was also reported that Hanley accepted the award dressed in Puma gear, something that didn’t go down well with the sponsors of the Boot! But irrespective of the side issues, Hanley was delighted to win the Golden Boot, for reasons similar to McGahan’s: “I am delighted to have won the Golden Boot, because it might be a long time before a Great Britain player wins it again,” he said at the time. “It’s always going to be difficult for British players to get this ultimate recognition when Australia dominates our sport in so many ways.” Hanley was right – it was 15 and a half years before another Brit was regarded as the world’s best.

Another iconic League figure stepped up to the plate in 1989 and enjoyed a year he will look back on as his finest in the game. Mal Meninga is one of the code’s most famous names and faces, and the sight of him in full flight was a thing of beauty. He moved to the still relatively new Canberra Raiders in 1986 after a blistering stint in England with St Helens. Three years later, the Raiders played their part in a truly unforgettable Grand Final as they defeated Balmain in extra-time. Meninga’s contribution was immense as he made a crucial try-saving tackle late in the game to prevent the Tigers wrapping the game up. And then, in the final seconds, after John Ferguson’s try reduced the deficit to two points, Meninga had to hold his nerve to tie the scores with the conversion. He did, and his side prevailed in the extra period. At representative level, he was part of two sides who whitewashed their opponents, scoring two tries in the first Origin as his side gained the momentum to record a 3-0 series win before the Kangaroos gained a trio of wins in New Zealand. To cap all that, Meninga had recovered from four broken arms to become the world’s best player.

“By this time the Golden Boot had been hijacked from what I wanted it to be,” Edgar remembered. “Mal Meninga was the obvious winner for his performances in 1989 but again there was no pomp or ceremony – he was just given the Boot and that was it. The decision makers at Adidas had changed and they weren’t sympathetic to us.”

Unbeknown to Edgar at the time, Meninga was to be the last winner that he would be responsible for. When, in early 1991, the panel decided that Great Britain’s Garry Schofield was the world’s finest, on the back of a series of mesmeric displays for Great Britain against New Zealand and Australia, the Australians wouldn’t support the decision, and Adidas refused to support an English-based presentation. Without Adidas, Edgar pulled the plug.

“It had very much become an Australian thing and we decided to make one last effort to get it back to what it was and what it should have been,” he said. “We wanted to have it in England and after Garry’s performances in 1990 – he should have been the rightful winner. He’d been absolutely outstanding on the tour to New Zealand and in the Ashes series against Australia – the closest we’ve been to them in years. Garry was a brilliant player – no one can deny that.

“But we couldn’t get the backing to do it in this country. We couldn’t do it in Australia because Schoey wasn’t due to be in Australia. Typically, the Australians believed that an Australian should win it, but we believed that Garry should and that was more or less the last straw. Adidas wouldn’t do anything to make it happen in this country and that was it for me.

“As well as that, Peter [Deakin] wasn’t on the scene anymore because he was working in America and he’d been instrumental in getting sponsors and pushing the Aussies. When he wasn’t involved, the driving force was gone and that was it.”

Sadly, and suddenly, it appeared that the award that Wally Lewis described as “stunning” and Peter Sterling as “the greatest honour you can achieve in Rugby League” had seen the light of day for the last time. It ended up being shelved for nine years before League Publications, the new owners of Open Rugby, decided to revive it. Martyn Sadler, chairman of LPL, who wrote for Open Rugby in its early days, said: “I thought it was a great innovation when Open Rugby introduced it, and thought it was overdue recognition for the greatest players in the game. We wanted to find a way to mark the fact that LPL had acquired Open Rugby – something that would make people sit up and take notice.”
Graham Clay was the first editor of the newly named Rugby League World and recalled: “When we bought Open Rugby, one of the first things I wanted to do was bring back the Golden Boot because it was a hugely prestigious award. I remember reading Open Rugby when I was a kid and seeing such great players like Wally Lewis and Brett Kenny winning the award and thought it would be great to bring that back. The criteria was simply to judge who had been the best player in the world for each year, with performances in internationals playing a big part in that – but, as Andrew Johns proved in 1999, outstanding domestic performances could still land you the award.”

Johns, the brilliant Newcastle Knights scrum-half, who had firmly established himself as one of the world’s best since breaking into top-level rugby in 1993. In 1999 he actually missed the Tri-Nations series but played all three Origin games as the series finished tied for the first time in its 20-year history. He was once again fantastic for Newcastle Knights, although they were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs.

Johns told Rugby League World recently: “I remember growing up having posters on my wall of all the big names, and me and my brother had a picture of Ellery and his Golden Boot, so I couldn’t believe it when I won it because it’s such a prestigious award. When I got mine [in England], the picture went back to Australia and my mum rang me and told me off for picking up an award like the Golden Boot without having a shave!”

In 2000 another of the game’s great names got his hands on the award. Brad Fittler had long been one of the game’s most recognised faces and in captaining both New South Wales and Australia to Origin and World Cup glory, he did his reputation no harm at all. He also led Sydney Roosters, the club who had broken the bank to entice him from Penrith Panthers at the height of the Super League war, to their first Grand Final in 20 years.

“Brad Fittler was another great name, of course,” says Clay, “and I actually presented the award to him at the Sydney Roosters Leagues Club. I was out there at the time launching the Australian version of Rugby League World. We used a similar panel back then that is used now, one that was made up of journalists and former players including Peter Sterling. Steve Mascord liaised for us in Australia and got some big names involved.”

Fittler recalled: “It topped off the year. During your career there are always people who put you down, and others who praise you. That’s the way it is. So there’s nothing wrong with being proud of the accolades that come your way. You get enough kicks where it hurts, on and off the field, and when finally your achievements are recognised, there’s no point in hiding your light under a bushel. I was absolutely rapt to get that award. I was at ease with the world.”

Johns became the first man to win the Golden Boot for a second time in 2001 when his performances in leading Newcastle Knights to their second Premiership in five years had few people disputing that he was the premier player in the world. He won the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player in their unlikely Grand Final win over Parramatta – Newcastle were huge underdogs that day – before he went on to help Australia win the Ashes on British soil a month later, in particular producing an excellent performance as Australia levelled the series at Bolton with a convincing 40-12 win.

2002 saw a third non-Australian winner with the mercurial Kiwi scrum-half, Stacey Jones, recognised for taking the Warriors to their only Grand Final to date and helping New Zealand earn a share of the spoils in their Test series in Great Britain, picking up the George Smith Medal as player of the series in the process.

Jones admitted to being speechless that he had won the Golden Boot before adding: “It’s a great honour, a massive honour.”

A year later the current Australian captain, Darren Lockyer, won his first Golden Boot largely for inspiring an under-strength Australia to their first Ashes whitewash of Great Britain in 18 years. Lockyer, who hails from Roma, the same Queensland town as Arthur Beetson, had long been a dominant figure on the international scene. With each Test delicately poised in the closing stages, Lockyer’s magic touches turned all three in his side’s favour from losing positions.

By this time Tony Hannan had taken over as the editor of the magazine: “The Golden Boot is one of the great awards – if not the greatest award – in Rugby League, and something it was a huge honour to have a hand in, as editor of Rugby League World.

“One of the biggest problems we always seemed to have was the awarding of the actual Boot itself, given that ideally the decision is made after the final game of that year’s international series and it is usually going to go to an Aussie.

“In 2003, for example, I had to tear around to a hotel in Leeds city centre on the Sunday morning after the Australians had just completed their first 3-0 Ashes whitewash over Great Britain since 1986. Ironically, given the time it took me to get there, that was the one sponsored by the government’s ‘Think!’ road-safety campaign.

“2003 was also the year in which Darren Lockyer won the award for the first time. He had kindly agreed to pose with the Boot in front of a Christmas tree in the hotel foyer, shortly before the Kangaroos left for the airport. I remember thinking then what a down-to-earth bloke he was and nothing in the handful of times I’ve met him since has made me change my mind. There’s no sport quite like Rugby League for that. These lads may be among the best athletes on the planet but they rarely, if ever, have any airs or graces and are genuinely thrilled to join the illustrious list of former winners.”

The award caused controversy in 2004 when it was won by a British player for just the second time. After a magnificent year with Wigan, when he dragged an injury-ravaged side through the toughest of seasons, Andy Farrell’s name was added to the list of illustrious previous winners. He won a thoroughly deserved second Man of Steel after figuring for much of the year in the unusual position of prop, producing form that was as good as any in his 14-season Wigan career. Internationally, he captained Great Britain once again and was instrumental in them finishing top of the Tri-Nations table after helping them to three wins in four games against Australia and New Zealand – the other game was lost on the hooter as Luke Rooney snatched yet another late winner for the Green and Golds.

Farrell remarked at the time: “This is one of the proudest moments of my career. Winning the Golden Boot has been one of the things I have always dreamed of,” he said. “Some great players have won this award in the past and to be spoken of in the same breath makes me feel privileged and honoured.” Wayne Bennett, the Australia coach, spoke in glowing terms of the British captain: “We were pleased for Andy Farrell – he’s been tremendous. I was disappointed at the criticism that has been levelled at home about him winning it. That’s pure sour grapes, but not from the Australian team. There was nobody there who didn’t think he deserved it.”

With the Golden Boot winner decided after those round-robin games and before the final because the presentation was by now tied into the international awards evening, the decision to hand the award to Farrell surprised few in this country, but caused an outcry down under which Bennett refers to. The critics’ arguments were strengthened when Great Britain were absolutely annihilated in the final six days later against Australia, who were led by a rampant Darren Lockyer, with the Daily Telegraph in Sydney leading the way.

Their writer Dean Ritchie wrote that “Farrell is honest, tough and committed. But it ends there. He has obviously won the award for years of loyal service to Great Britain. It is an award handed out on sentimental grounds.” Ritchie claimed that a panel of unnamed journalists, officials and players that he had contacted ranked Farrell as the 28th best player in the world with former Kangaroo great Laurie Daley, who lined up against Farrell at stand-off in the 1997 Super League Test series, adding, “Andy is a good footballer but he’s never done anything to put fear into the Australians.”

When contacted by Rugby League World recently, Ritchie stood by his remarks from six years ago: “The NRL is so far ahead of Super League it is embarrassing. Any player who wins the Golden Boot must do so from the NRL competition, not by playing matches against reserve-grade standard Super League sides,” before adding: “I was inundated with emails from England. The fans were filthy.”

Hannan remembers the fuss with some fondness: “You could hear the howls of protest from Bondi to Blackpool. It’s always fun when the Aussies whinge, so I enjoyed that very much. Anyway, Faz had won his award fair and square. Although Britain were subsequently turned over in the 2004 Tri-Nations final, at times over that year it seemed as if he was carrying his team single-handedly on his own shoulders.

“In some ways, though, that did show the pitfall of awarding the prize before the final game. Trying to avoid the last-gasp rush of 2003, we set up a glitzy international awards dinner at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, sponsored by Gillette. Led by Farrell, Britain had enjoyed a great tournament up until then, but were stuffed 44-4 in the big match.

“It’s a really tough – if not impossible – one to call. I think on balance, though, that waiting, as the magazine has done more recently, is the best approach. There can be no doubt, then, that the right man has won.

“The funniest thing was the reaction of the notoriously parochial Australian press. Horrified at a non-Australian winning it, they were asking, who votes for this thing? Well, you did you dummies! Every one of them was given a vote although, typically, some of them couldn’t be bothered to use it.”

A year later Anthony Minichiello, the outstanding Sydney Roosters, New South Wales and Australia fullback, became another Golden Boot winner to be accept the award before the final, only – as with Farrell a year earlier – for it to be undermined by a thrashing on the big stage with Australia losing 24-0 to New Zealand in the Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, their first series defeat since a 2-0 reversal at the hands of the French in 1978.

No-one could really argue with the next winner. Darren Lockyer, by now a stand-off, enjoyed the perfect 2006, leading Brisbane to an unlikely NRL Premiership with a 15-6 win over the much-fancied Melbourne Storm in the Grand Final. He also scored the winning try in the State of Origin series as the Maroons won a series for the first time in five years. In the Tri-Nations, this time held in the Southern Hemisphere, his influence helped Australia win back the trophy from the Kiwis. He was an obvious and undisputed winner and joined Andrew Johns as a two-time winner.

But with 2004 and 2005 in mind, two changes were made to the process of finding the latest Golden Boot winner after I became editor of Rugby League World in 2007. It was decided that the Boot would only be awarded after the last big international of the year and that voting process would be transparent to the public, especially as it came so soon after the controversial Man of Steel awarding to James Roby over Trent Barrett. So, a panel of illustrious ex-players including Sterling, Schofield, McGahan and Mike Stephenson joined various media members like Sadler, Mascord, Malcolm Andrews and myself in voting the Melbourne, Queensland and Australia hooker, Cameron Smith, to be a clear winner of the 2007 Golden Boot, with Jamie Peacock, who had led Leeds and Great Britain to success, coming second. Peacock was the first recognised runner-up of the Golden Boot, with Johnathan Thurston, Steve Price, Gareth Ellis and Roy Asotasi also shortlisted and receiving votes in that order. The first, second and third choices of each voter was published in the magazine for all to see.

“The main thing is transparency,” said Sadler. “We have published the names of the judges, and have revealed how they voted. I think that gives the Golden Boot a lot of credibility.”

“I’m quite shocked actually,” said Smith on hearing he had won the Boot. “It’s capped off a great year and I’m made up to have won it. If you’d told me at the start of the season what sort of year I’d have, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been a quite incredible year and I’m fortunate to be at a club with such a great coach and players. Look at the talent in the Queensland and Australia teams as well. It’s a season I will remember for the rest of my life.”

The 2008 winner enjoyed the sort of nightmare final game that Farrell and Minichiello did. But the voting was carried out after Billy Slater’s disastrous World Cup Final and he still won the Golden Boot at a canter, with only the New Zealand-based Steve Kilgallon out of the 14 judges not rating him the world’s best. Slater was fantastic on a weekly basis for Melbourne and helped the Maroons win their third-straight Origin series before starring in the group stages of the World Cup particularly in their humiliation of England. The big Kiwi winger, Manu Vatuvei, was the runner-up ahead of Greg Inglis, Benji Marshall, Jamie Peacock, Cameron Smith, Brent Kite and Johnathan Thurston.

Slater said when I presented him his award in Sydney: “It’s a massive achievement to be named the best player in the world and I still can’t believe it. You hear the names of previous winners like Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer. They were my heroes and for my name to be thrown around in that category is massive. I probably won’t realise what it means until I’m older.”

By this time, the Rugby League International Federation, chaired by Colin Love, had set up its own awards to rival the Golden Boot. They initially tried to bargain with Sadler to gain ownership of the Boot, but were unsuccessful. “The RLIF tried to take over the Golden Boot, but they didn’t respond to the conditions we laid down if they were to take over the award.” Rugby League World then declined Love’s invitation to present the Golden Boot at their awards night on the basis that it was staged before the World Cup Final. Love, in turn, came up with a series of new international awards but, crucially, ones that only reward a individual’s achievements from October to October and not January to December – as the Golden Boot does. Therefore, strangely, it does not take into account performances in that year’s international competition. So, this year, with anything that happened in the Four Nations not being taken into account, Todd Carney, the Australian’s second-choice stand-off, bizarrely won an award entitled the ‘International’ Player of the Year.
Greg Inglis made it a trio of Storm winners in as many years when his truly destructive performances in the inaugural Four Nations in 2009 left him the clear winner of the Golden Boot, especially after he had won the Wally Lewis Medal as the best player in the State of Origin series. And to cap off the perfect year for Inglis, he won his second Grand Final in three years with Melbourne. He won the award ahead of fellow nominees Billy Slater, Gareth Ellis, Cameron Smith, Fuifui Moimoi and Kevin Sinfield in that order.

“It’s just extremely humbling, especially when I look at the names who have won the Golden Boot in the past,” said Inglis upon receiving the award.

And the list of great players to have won the Golden Boot goes on with Benji Marshall who did to Australia in the Four Nations final what they have done to New Zealand and Great Britain so many times in the past, in engineering that wonderful last-gasp play that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Marshall is a sensational player and any side in the world would be blessed to have him in their team.

“That’s what the Golden Boot is all about,” concluded Edgar. “Benji was head and shoulders above anybody in the Four Nations and I’m delighted that he won it. But I bet there’ll be one or two grumbling Australians!”

 

 

What happened to the winners?

After enjoying the perfect 1984, Wally Lewis endured a nightmare 1985. His Wynnum Manly side were surprisingly defeated by Wayne Bennett’s Souths Magpies and he was left helpless as Queensland relinquished the State of Origin crown they had held so proudly since its inception. Although he was part of the victorious Australian side against New Zealand, he clashed on a number of occasions with coach Terry Fearnley. Lewis went on to enjoy a magnificent career, becoming the inaugural captain of Brisbane Broncos in 1988 and his on-field achievements were further rewarded when he was named the sixth post-war Immortal by Rugby League Week magazine. He bowed out of the Origin arena a winner in 1991 and hung up his boots for good at the end of the season.

Brett Kenny followed up his Golden Boot year of 1985 by winning another Grand Final with Parramatta the following year before being part of the wonderful Australia side that beat Great Britain 3-0 in the Ashes. He stood down from the representative scene in 1987 but Parramatta struggled to replace many of the great players that had helped them be so successful. Kenny battled on manfully but a fifth title was never going to materialise. In 1992, he starred at loose forward as the Eels stunned the touring British Lions, before he retired in 1993.

Garry Jack continued to play for New South Wales and Australia for a couple of years after winning the Golden Boot, and he also enjoyed spells with Salford and Sheffield Eagles in England. He was controversially suspended by the ARL for declining to travel to America in 1987 to play in a promotional State of Origin match because his wife was suffering from post-natal depression. He played in both of Balmain’s Grand Final losses in 1988 and 1989 and went on to overtake Keith Barnes’s record of first-grade appearances for the club. His career ended in controversy with him suing Ian Roberts for an on-field altercation.

After sharing the Golden Boot, Hugh McGahan suffered the agony of missing the 1988 World Cup final with injury but played for the Kiwis a further 12 times, captaining them on each occasion including wins against Great Britain in Manchester (1989) and Christchurch (1990). His Easts career finished in 1991 and he almost made a shock return to action in 1996 amid an injury crisis at Leeds, where he was assistant coach.

Peter Sterling, who shared the Boot with McGahan, failed to get his hands on another Winfield Cup and he surprisingly stood down from the representative scene in 1988. An ankle injury prevented him from fulfilling a contract with Leeds in 1989 and a long-standing shoulder injury, initially caused in a collision with Great Britain’s Roy Powell, caused a tearful Sterling to announce his retirement from the game in 1992.

Ellery Hanley returned to Australia mid-season in 1989 but joined struggling Western Suburbs and had no chance of playing in another Grand Final. His standing in the game went from strength to strength as he came within a whisker of captaining Great Britain to Ashes glory in 1990. He won numerous medals with Wigan, before moving to Leeds and ended his playing career with another Balmain stint in 1996 and 1997. He coached Great Britain in 1994 but rejected calls for him to select himself.

Mal Meninga led Canberra to another Premiership in 1990 amid the game’s first salary-cap scandal, although the club were not stripped of their title. He continued to dominate on the representative scene before bowing out of the game in 1994 with another Winfield Cup and Ashes title under his belt.

Andrew Johns spent much of his career regarded as the world’s best player but a lack of Test appearances, due to injuries, cost him a third Golden Boot. He retired from the game after sustaining another neck injury in round one of 2007 before being voted the greatest player of the last 30 years by Rugby League Week in 2008.

Brad Fittler endured a dreadful 2001 after picking up the Golden Boot at the end of the previous year. He was controversially voted the game’s most overrated player by a players’ poll in Rugby League Week, and he was heavily criticised for his performance in the deciding Origin game and for being one of five players to initially withdraw from the Kangaroos’ Tour in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. But in 2002 he led the Roosters to their first Grand Final success in 27 years and he bowed out of Origin a winner in 2004 before retiring later that year.

Stacey Jones enjoyed another career high three years after winning the Golden Boot when he helped New Zealand to Tri-Nations glory in England. He signed for Catalans Dragons in Super League in 2006 and led them out at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final before retiring for a year and then returning for a final season with the Warriors in 2009.

The career of Darren Lockyer has gone from strength to strength after his Golden Boots. He is now the most capped Australian international of all time, and their leading tryscorer. He led Queensland to their fifth-straight Origin success in 2010 and remains captain of club, state and country.

Andrew Farrell only played one more match after lifting the Golden Boot, and that was the ill-fated Tri-Nations final against Australia six days later. He gave no indications afterwards that he was to leave Rugby League at the time, but switched codes just before the new Super League season in 2005.

Anthony Minichiello endured several injury nightmares after peaking in 2005, and saw the fortunes of his Roosters side plummet until this year when, under the coaching of Brian Smith, they reached the Grand Final, losing to St George. Minichiello hasn’t played for Australia since his Golden Boot year and last played for New South Wales in 2007.

The Melbourne Storm trio of winners, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, remain dominant forces in the game, although they have subsequently had their 2007 and 2009 Premierships taken from them in the wake of the Storm salary-cap fiasco that hit the game in the 2010 season. Inglis has since left the club initially agreeing to join Brisbane, but reneging and linking up with South Sydney Rabbitohs instead. Injury ruled him out of the 2010 Four Nations, although Smith and Slater played, but lost to New Zealand in the final … courtesy of the brilliance of the 2010 winner, Benji Marshall.

 

Updated list of winners

1984: Wally Lewis
1985: Brett Kenny
1986: Garry Jack
1987: Hugh McGahan & Peter Sterling
1988: Ellery Hanley
1989: Mal Meninga
1990-1998: no award given
1999: Andrew Johns
2000: Brad Fittler
2001: Andrew Johns
2002: Stacey Jones
2003: Darren Lockyer
2004: Andrew Farrell
2005: Anthony Minichiello
2006: Darren Lockyer
2007: Cameron Smith
2008: Billy Slater
2009: Greg Inglis
2010: Benji Marshall

 
What each player did to win the Golden Boot

1984: Wally Lewis
Captained Australia in Ashes whitewash over Great Britain, Queensland in State of Origin success and Wynnum Manly to Brisbane Grand Final glory.

1985: Brett Kenny
Played a starring role in Wigan winning the greatest Challenge Cup final of them all before playing in the Blues’ first-ever Origin series win.

1986: Garry Jack
Magnificent at fullback as NSW and Australia enjoyed comprehensive series wins over Queensland and Great Britain.

1987: Hugh McGahan & Peter Sterling
The Kiwi captained his country to a famous win over Australia in the only Test between the two countries that year while Sterling won two Origin man of the match awards.

1988: Ellery Hanley
Drove Balmain to stunning charge towards Grand Final place and led Great Britain to first win over Australia for ten years.

1989: Mal Meninga
Lifted Canberra’s maiden Winfield Cup Premiership after classic Grand Final against Balmain and played a leading role in series whitewash wins for Queensland and Australia.

1990-1998: no award given

1999: Andrew Johns
Outstanding throughout the NRL season and starred for NSW in drawn Origin series.

2000: Brad Fittler
Lifted the World Cup for Australia after Origin success with the Blues. Also helped Sydney Roosters to the Grand Final.

2001: Andrew Johns
Triumphed with Australia in the Ashes and Newcastle in the Grand Final, winning the Clive Churchill Medal.

2002: Stacey Jones
Led the Warriors to their maiden Grand Final before starring in the Test series against New Zealand.

2003: Darren Lockyer
Won his first Boot after denying Great Britain in each Ashes Test with typical brilliance.

2004: Andrew Farrell
Superb for Wigan winning the Man of Steel before leading Britain to three consecutive Test wins.

2005: Anthony Minichiello
Brilliant fullback who starred for New South Wales in Origin triumph and for Australia before their Tri-Nations final disaster.

2006: Darren Lockyer
Enjoyed the perfect year, tasting success at club, state and international level as captain of all three sides.

2007: Cameron Smith
Part of two comprehensive wins against New Zealand, was the player of the Origin series and won a Grand Final with Melbourne.

2008: Billy Slater
Succeeded at Origin level although lost finals with Melbourne and Australia. Brilliant throughout the year nonetheless.

2009: Greg Inglis
Won a clean sweep with Melbourne, Queensland and Australia, proving to be the game’s most explosive centre since Meninga.

2010: Benji Marshall
Stunned the Aussies by engineering late try to win Four Nations final. Produced many magic moments in 2010.

 
Quotes:

Wally Lewis:When I was informed that I had won the Golden Boot, it was something very special. It was an individual award, and one that left me in disbelief.”

Brett Kenny: “The Golden Boot is a great achievement for any footballer. To be named the best player in the world is a wonderful honour.”

Peter Sterling: “It’s probably the greatest honour you can achieve in Rugby League and one I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Andrew Johns: “I remember growing up having posters on my wall of Ellery and his Golden Boot. I couldn’t believe it when I won it because it’s such a prestigious award.”

Billy Slater: “It’s a massive achievement to be named the best player in the world and I still can’t believe it.”

Greg Inglis: “It’s just extremely humbling, especially when I look at the names who have won the Golden Boot in the past.”

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The 10 Best Aussie Grand Finals

Published in Thirteen in 2005

by Bryce Eulenstein

The Ten Best Australian Grand Finals

10. 1963: St George v Western Suburbs, Sydney Cricket Ground, 24th August
The Gladiators

The presence of the great St George era from 1956-66 takes the limelight away from the best teams ever to wear the famous black-and-white jumper of the Western Suburbs Magpies. Determined to end Saints run, Wests became known as the ‘Millionaires’, as they spent large sums luring top players to Pratten Park. Built around legendary halfback, Arthur Summons, their pack boasted two of the toughest players to play for Australia, Kel O’Shea and the legendary Noel “Ned” Kelly. Three successive times they met the legendary Dragons in the decider. They were really the only side that threatened them. 1963 was their last roll of the dice. Played in atrocious conditions, the match is best remembered for the famous John O’Grady photograph of rival captains Norm Provan and Arthur Summons embracing after the game.Wests believed they could win this time – third time lucky. They had been flogged by St George 22-0 in ’61, but the ’62 decider was a neck and neck affair, won controversially by St George 9-6. Wests had claimed that their fleet footed winger, Peter Dimond, was tackled off the ball in a try scoring situation. But this time, coach Jack Fitzgerald was confident. Wests had adopted Saints’ plan of early brutality to tire the opposing forward pack, and then turning the ball wide to exploit the gaps. Legendary half back Arthur Summons was the ringmaster.

Wests beat Saints three times that year: 8-5, 12-5, and, in the major semi final, 10-8.That game was only the second semi final that Saints had lost in eight years. Their game plan was based around nullifying the brilliance of Reg Gasnier. Brimming in confidence, they trained in a muddy park on the Thursday before the game, perfect preparation for a grand final played in a wet Sydney winter.

St George were fielding all three grades that day. By the time the first grade got underway, they had won both lower grades. Making his grand final debut for St George was a young kid from Wollongong called Greame Langlands. A record crowd of 69,860 braved the rain, as both sides played quality, tough football that belied the conditions. By kick-off, the middle of the ground had deteriorated into a muddy mess.

Wests’ Summons made the early play – a kick in goal that was covered by John King. Shortly after, Norm Provan regathered a loose ball, and found halfback George Evans on the harder ground near the touchline. Cover defenders coming from the muddy midfield were no chance. Saints were up 3-0. A Gasnier penalty goal made it 5-0, and Saints were starting to take control. Giant Norm Provan was dictating play midfield, and Wests’ efforts to contain him were failing. Provan lost the ball over the try line late in the half, and the Magpies hung on until half time.

The cricket pitch area of the SCG was fast becoming a quagmire. Ankle deep mud made running almost impossible, and players jerseys became covered in mud to the point of being unrecognisable. Saints settled down to defend their lead, confident that the mud would make a Wests’ comeback impossible. However, when Langlands fielded a Summons kick, and attempted to play the ball, one of the markers kicked through, and Gil MacDougal grounded the ball beside the posts. It was the first try scored against Saints in a grand final in five years. Don Parish slipped during the conversion, and the ball went wide. With the scores at 5-3, Saints were still confident of victory, but Wests were growing in confidence as well.

But the overall winner was the mud. By midway through the second half, no player was recognisable. The SCG was a quagmire. Players would slide two or three yards from where they fell. Mud in the eyes became a problem, with ambulance men patrolling the sidelines with buckets of water so the players could wash their faces! The conditions took their greatest toll on Reg Gasnier. Moved to the wing after a knock on his jaw, Gasnier suffered knees in the back due to players sliding around in a tackle. Wests then shifted Peter Dimond to the centres to capitalise.

What followed are two of the most controversial moments in grand final history.

Late in the game, Langlands broke through and passed the ball to Johnny King, who was knocked down by the cover defence. King jumped to his feet, and with the Wests players settling for the play-the-ball, King took off, and scored in the corner. Wests players protested wildly, but referee Lawler reckoned that he never called ‘held’. Saints were in front 8-3.

Wests had one more chance to level the scores. With seven minutes to go, Summons laid on a kick for a flying Peter Dimond, and a race between him and Eddie Lumsden for the ball followed. Dimond got their first to ground the ball, but referee Lawler, still downfield in the mud, refused to signal the try. Dimond, he claimed, had failed to ground the ball.

St George held on to win 8-3. In the aftermath of the game, the Wests entourage was fuming, and unfounded claims of refereeing bias circulated for years. It still does. Sadly, the game represented the last appearance in a grand final for the proud Western Suburbs Club.

Yet, despite the anger, Arthur Summons was gracious in defeat. In embracing Provan – a moment caught in that famous photo, Summons was displaying the ultimate sporting message, of grace in victory and defeat. The photo won the prestigious British Press Photographer’s award for 1963, and became the basis for the three trophy’s that would dominate Australian Rugby League in the last 20 years, the Winfield, Optus and Telstra Cups.

St George 8 (G Evans, J King tries, R Gasnier goal)
Western Suburbs 3 (G MacDougall try).
Crowd: 69,860

ST GEORGE: G Langlands, E Lumsden, R Gasnier, W Smith, J King, B Pollard, G Evans, K Ryan, I Walsh (c), M Porter, N Provan (c), E Rasmussen, J Raper

WESTERN SUBURBS: D Parish, J Mowbray, K McGuinness, G McDougall, P Dimond, A Summons ©, D Malone, D Meaney, N Kelly, J Gibson, J Hayes, K O’Shea, K Smyth

9. 1999 Melbourne v St George Illawarra, 26th September
The Unthinkable Result II: Penalty Try Slays Dragons

In the late 1980’s, when Rugby League grand finals were played at the small Sydney Football Stadium between old established teams, no one could have imagined how the game would change over the next decade. If anyone had suggested that the grand final would be played in front of 100,000 people, one would have been wrapt. Had it been suggested that the result would not be decided until the final moments, contain one of the all time great tries, and one of the most controversial moments in league history, you’d be salivating. And if you said the premiers would come from Melbourne and celebrate in a tent, they would spend the rest of their life in a rubber room. But that’s exactly what happened on Sunday, 26th September 1999.Melbourne is Australia’s second largest city, home to 3.5 million people who know as much about rugby league as Shane Warne knows about telephone etiquette. The Melbourne Storm was merely a bargaining tool at the end of the Super League war – the trade off for killing off the code in Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast. It was John Ribot’s gold watch from Rupert Murdoch. It was a dumping ground for unwanted former Super League players. No one had heard of Rodney Howe, Scott Hill, Matt Geyer or Brett Kimmorley. And no one really cared.

Even after they debut the year earlier, when they had won their first three games to lead the competition early, and eventually made the semi finals. Even when they beat Parramatta to claim their historic place in the ’99 decider –the last Grand Final for the century in the eyes of those that can’t count.

Melbourne had finished third in the minor premiership. St George Illawarra had finished sixth. However, the Dragons, in their first year as a joint venture from the two former Red and White clubs. Saints were red hot favourites for three reasons. Firstly, they were the best players from two clubs. Secondly, their demolition of minor premiers Cronulla in the preliminary final was clinical, with stand off Anthony Mundine unstoppable. Thirdly, no one took Melbourne seriously.

The match was the first ever Grand Final not played at Moore Park, where the Sydney Showground, Cricket Ground and Football Stadium stand side by side. Stadium Australia (now Telstra Stadium) was hosting the big game as a rehearsal for the following years Olympic Games. The venue was much more accessible to most Sydneysiders, and they came out in droves. The crowd of 107,558 eclipsed the old benchmark set at Odsal in 1954 for league’s biggest live audience.

St George were favourites. Picking the best from last years Illawarra and St George teams, they played both previous years stand offs, with Illawarra’s Barrett shifting to half back. He and Mundine shared an uneasy truce, and spent most of the season playing down talks of a rift. Barrett was touted as Brad Fittler’s long term replacement in the Test number six. Mundine, in turn, was outspoken and claimed to be the worlds best player.

Both teams had a nervous start. Dragons hooker Nathan Brown kicked out on the full early – Melbourne knocked on from the restart. Yet Shaun Timmins almost caught a Barrett bomb in the second minute – knocking on before he could ground the ball. Saints camped in Melbourne’s half for the first quarter of an hour. Melbourne repelled many raids on their line, and answered all the questioned asked by Barrett’s bombs. The pressure told in the 14th minute, when Craig Fitzgibbon collected a Mundine grubber in goal. A conversion, followed by a penalty goal, had Saints leading 8-0.

Shortly after, young Saints full back Luke Patten suffered a bad knee injury. Mercurial winger Nathan Blacklock moved to fullback. Not a noted defender, dragons fans had their hearts in their mouths as Blacklock fielded the steady stream of Kimmorley kicks that was suddenly sent his way. Growing in confidence, Blacklock chose the 30th minute to try his luck.

Brett Kimmorley decided to chip kick on the Dragons 30 – trying to catch Blacklock standing deep. But the Dragons Aboriginal flyer pounced on the ball as it was falling. He was at absolute top speed, and before anyone had registered what was happening, Blacklock was streaking away toward the southern try line – with the biggest grin in town. It was one of the biggest plays you would ever want to hear. 107,558 people stood and cheered as one, as Blacklock did a corrobboree to celebrate. Fitzgibbon’s conversion brought up the half time score – St George 14-0. Everything was going to plan.

Melbourne got its first penalty early in the second half when Kimmorley was hit high by Saints firebrand prop Craig Smith. Storm winger Craig Smith – a fill-in winger from Brisbane Norths, Melbourne’s feeder club in the Queensland Cup, potted the goal. Saints dominance didn’t wane. Again, they camped down Melbourne’s end of the field, looking for the killer blow. Storm fullback Robbie Ross just beat Blacklock to a menacing Barrett grubber. Moments later, Blacklock dropped the ball attempting to kick and chase. And five minutes later, with the killer blow finally at hand, Anthony Mundine dropped the ball over the line. He had kicked and regathered, but with two unmarked supports out wide, had decided to take on Storm’s Smith instead.

Two minutes later, Melbourne get their second penalty of the game, with Ross tackled without the ball. Converting their slim fortune to field position, Melbourne attack. Matt Geyer ran across field, and found Tony Martin in support. Martin crashed over for the Storm’s first try. Unconverted, the score remains at 14-6.

Saints replied two minutes later, with Paul McGregor fielding a Barrett bomb. At 18-6, with 24 minutes remaining, Wayne Bartrim missed the simple conversion. The miss came with a strange sense of foreboding. Despite the comfortable lead, Saints had yet to put the game to bed.

Then the tide turned.

Two minutes after Bartrim’s miss, Brett Kimmorley delivered a crisp pass to put replacement forward Ben Roarty over wide out. Smith’s conversion brought Melbourne back to within 6 points, with 20 minutes to play.

The Storm, despite being outclassed, were clearly steeling themselves for the finish. The puppet master was Kimmorley, whose kicking game kept turning the big Saints pack around. With better field position, they waited for the crumbs. When Nathan Brown was penalised for a play-the-ball infringement, Smith potted the goal. At 18-14, the Storm were coming home with a wet sail.

Overhead, the bright sunny day receded beneath a huge menacing cloud approaching from the south. The omen – Cecile B Demille couldn’t have done it better. St George had their backs to it, and didn’t see it coming. Melbourne did.

Melbourne camped in the Saints’ quarter, as the Dragons slowly began to doubt themselves. With six minutes remaining, a Brown bomb found Timmins over the line – but he was ruled offside. It was a big call to make, but not a pinch as to what came next.

By the 77th minute, the Storm forwards had put in a big set of six, and Kimmorley launched a cross field bomb for Craig Smith. Smith caught the ball cleanly in mid air, but was hid hard by Saints winger Jamie Ainscough coming across in cover. Smith dropped the ball – Ainscough had believed that he had saved the day. But referee Bill Harrigan, in the biggest call of his career, called for the video referee to check the tackle.

For four agonising minutes, the various video angles beamed to the huge crowd gradually unfolded a story that was unbelievable. Ainscough had connected with Smith’s head, and knocked him cold before he fell to the ground. One the video ref’s advice, he awarded a penalty try.

At 18-all, and with Smith still unconscious, Matt Geyer landed the winning goal from right in front. Three minutes later, and Melbourne were premiers.

A disbelieving Glenn Lazarus fumbled his way through the victory speech. He had sat his own milestone – becoming the only player in history to win premierships with three clubs. The club were caught unprepared too. Without a Leagues Club, they hurriedly erected a marquee in a park in Melbourne and scrounged for enough food and alcohol to do the occasion proud.

The unthinkable had occurred – Melbourne had become the toast of rugby league!

Melbourne 20 (T Martin, B Roarty, C Smith tries, Smith 3 goals, M Geyer goal)
St George Illawarra 18 (Fitzgibbon, Blacklock, McGregor tries, Bartrim 2, Fitzgibbon goals)
Crowd: 104,558

MELBOURNE: R Ross, C Smith, A Moule, T Martin, M Bai, M Geyer, B Kimmorley, G Lazarus ©, R Swain, R Howe, P Marquet, S Kearney, T Nikau. Subs: M Rua, D Williams, R Bawden, B Roarty

ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA: L Patten, N Blacklock, P McGregor ©, S Timmins, J Ainscough, A Mundine, T Barrett, C Pearson, N Brown, C Smith, D Treacy, L Thompson, W Bartrim. Subs: C Leikvoll, C Ward, B Mackay, R Wishart

8. 1969 Balmain v South Sydney, Sydney Cricket Ground, 17th September 1969
The Unthinkable Result I: Balmain Boys Don’t Cry

One of the most enduring images of my youth was the sight of the wild Balmain celebrations after the 1969 Grand Final. The Tigers, given no chance against one of the all time forward packs, decided that if they couldn’t out-muscle them, they’d out-smart them. And that’s how they stopped the phenomenal South Sydney Rabbitohs in their tracks. And settled a 60 year grudge.It’s now legend that Souths won the 1909 final on a forfeit. What is disputed is Balmain’s version. Both sides had been upset at the scheduling of the match as a curtain raiser for a test. The fledgling NSWRL wanted make a big day of it to attract a large crowd. Both clubs wanted the final to stand alone. According to Balmain, both teams agreed NOT to play the game, but Souths turned up, kicked off, scored a try, and claimed the premiership. The action sparked a feud that has simmered ever since.

By 1969, South Sydney had assumed St George’s mantle as league giants. Souths entered the grand final with a near test pack, and two consecutive premierships under their belt. Together with St George, they were carving a dynasty that had greedily hogged the last 20 premierships, save for one intrusion by Western Suburbs way back in 1952. Balmain, like many other sides, had merely been cannon fodder in all it’s attempts since it’s last premiership in 1947. The prognosis for 1969 didn’t look good, either. Club legend Keith Barnes had retired the year earlier. Their main attacking weapon, Arthur Beetson, was suspended.

Tigers coach Leo Nosworthy had a team of virtual no-names, save for former British test star David Bolton, and South African winger Len Killeen. Bought from St Helens earlier in the year, Kileen scored a club record 207 points. The rest of the side was based around good, honest club stalwarts, such as Gary Leo, Alan Fitzgibbon (father of Craig), and Peter Provan. They faced a giant Souths side, boasting seven internationals.

No one gave the Balmain no-names a chance, but the Tigers were confident, having beaten Souths once in the season. With this in mind, Nosworthy created his master plan – get ahead early, and then slow the game down. This would unsettle Souths, he argued. The main weapon? Feign injury!

Unbeknown to Nosworthy, Souths coach Clive Churchilll was having trouble keeping his players minds on the job. They had been believing the press – all they had to do was turn up and collect the JJ Giltinan Shield. They were totally unprepared for what was going to happen.

From the kick-off, Balmain jumped out of the blocks. Bolton had an early attempt at field goal (worth two points in those days), which went wide. Souths full back Eric Simms was grounded in goal. From the restart, Bolton had another attempt, and nailed it. Shortly after, Killeen landed his first goal. Not long after that, some Bolton brilliance gave him his second. He drop kicked deliberately into the Souths pack, and John Sattler was ruled offside when fielding the ball. Midway through the half, Balmain were ahead 6-0.

Three disallowed tries followed. George Rubner hit Souths winger Brian James as the latter attempted to score in the corner. James was ruled to have taken the corner post out. Moments later, McCarthy, was in the clear and about to put Ron Coote over – but was ruled offside. Balmain’s Barry McTaggart was penalised for a double movement.

Half time came, and Balmain started the second half as they started the first. Bolton and Provan combined to send Terry Parker on a long run, before lobbing a ball to replacement Sid Williams to score in the Paddington Corner. Killeen didn’t convert, but Balmain were up 9-0.

Then Nosworthy’s plan came into effect. Balmain simply slowed the game down to a snails pace. Players fell with ‘injury’ with the ball, with the bigger Rabbitoh side fuming as an endless trail of trainers would come on and tend to the ‘injuries’. Robbed of momentum, frustrated and mentally under prepared, they had no hope of coming back. The best they could do was a lone goal to Eric Simms 18 minutes from time. A late Bolton field goal brought up the final score, Balmain 11-2 South Sydney.

Balmain had plenty of heroes that day. Hooker Peter Boulton, playing only his second first grade game, won plenty of scrums against test hooker Elwyn Walters. Gary Leo played the game of his life – taking the challenge up after Beetson’s suspension. David Bolton had been superb, and Peter Proven, despite a severe rib injury, was immovable mid field. In captaining the side, Provan, with older brother, St George’s more famous Norm, became the only times that brothers had captained teams to premiership glory.

The 1969 premiership was Balmain’s only title since 1947. Souths were shattered by the loss, but were there again a year later – a far more committed outfit. Not even a badly smashed jaw to skipper John Sattler would let South’s resolve weaken. They weren’t going to be beaten by the underdogs the next time around!

Balmain 11 (S Williams try, L Kileen 2 goals, D Bolton 2 field goals)
South Sydney 2 (E Simms goal).
Crowd: 58,825

BALMAIN: R Smithies, G Ruebner, A Fitzgibbon, T Parker, L Kileen, K Outten, D Bolton, B McTaggart, P Boulton, G Leo, J Walsh, J Spencer, P Provan ©

SOUTH SYDNEY: E Simms, M Cleary, R Honan, K Burke, B James, D Pittard, R Grant, J O’Neill, E Walters, J Sattler ©, R Moses, R McCarthy, R Coote

7. 1955 South Sydney v Newtown, Sydney Cricket Ground, 17th September 1955
Eleven Games Of Sudden Death

South Sydney’s amazing 1955 season deserves to be preserved in history. After winning the premiership in 1954, they had lost six matches out of the nine played in the first round. Then they faced their previous seasons runners up, Newtown, at Redfern Oval. When the Bluebags scraped home 17-16, Souths were left last on the ladder, with only eight games left before the finals. Chasing their third straight premiership, and their sixth straight grand final, many wrote them off. An impromptu meeting under the grandstand after that loss saw a general airing of grievances by the players. Reaffirming their commitment to the club, and each other, they took the field for their next round match against Norths in a better frame of mind, and jagged their fourth win of the season, 27-12. Next week they downed Balmain 18-10, and followed that up with a 43-9 flogging of Canterbury. Souths were back in form, but with only six wins from 12 matches, and with only five remaining, they still appeared to be out of the running for the top four.

However, they were gaining momentum, and people gradually sat up and started to take notice after further big wins against Parramatta (37-15), Easts (22-11) and Wests (28-17). With two rounds remaining, and still four points short of fifth place, they prepared for a showdown with Manly at home.

The Sea Eagles were going against the script, however, and grafted their way to a 7-4 lead, with the Rabbitohs in desperate trouble. Central to their plight was an injury to legendary fullback Clive Churchill. He had sustained a broken arm in the sixth minute of play, but rather than leave the side down, he stayed on, wrapping an exercise book around the break to act as a splint, and taking advantage of pain killing injections.

Souths never gave in. Chocka Cowie levelled the scores late in the match with a try wide out. However, still four points adrift of the top four, a draw would have ended the season. Churchill pleaded with captain Jack Rayner to be allowed to take the sideline conversion. With his broken arm hanging limply by his side, Churchill’s attempt was never going to be a great one. The kick was terrible, but still, miraculously, managed to sneak over to give Souths a 9-7 win, and keep their final hopes alive.
Churchill never played again that season, but the tide was with Souths now, and their last round 27-17 defeat of St George saw them scrape into fourth position. They had won eight straight sudden death games to do it. Again they faced Manly in the first semi final, and again, in another tight match, they scraped home 14-12. They were now only one more win away from the grand final.

Another close match occurred in the preliminary final against St George. With eight minutes to play, the score was locked up at 14-all. However, Souths were given a string of late penalties, allowing Bernie Purcell to boot Souths into the grand final, with a 18-14 victory. After 10 straight wins, only Newtown, the one team they had not beaten all year, stood in their way.

Newtown’s superior backline gave them all important field position in the game. Although no tries were scored in the first half, the Bluebags were definitely the better side, with their centres Brian Clay and Dick Poole dominating. Close to half time, Newtown full back Gordon Clifford, who has already booted three penalties, kicked a 45 yard field goal, to send his side in with a half time lead of 8-4.

Buoyed by the first half, the Bluebags returned for the second half determined to continue to run Souths down out wide. With the scores unchanged for 20 minutes, Newtown launched continuous attacking raids in search of the knockout blow. It seemed as though the blow was coming when test centre Poole sliced through out wide, and sped for the corner. With only fullback Don Murdoch to beat, Poole stepped back inside and was caught by South pivot Jack Doherty only three yards short. Doherty had come from nowhere to make the tackle, and the effort lifted the tiring Souths pack immeasurably.

Before Doherty’s tackle, their only bright spot had been the wonderful efforts of hooker Ernie Hammerton in the scrums. With a better than 2-1 majority of possession (he ended up winning the scrums 30-12), Souths started to use the ball, and return Newtown’s fire out wide. The try that turned the match was a classic. Half Col Donohue made a blind side dash near halfway, and put winger Dale Puren in the clear. When the defence of Clifford emerged, Puren put a centre kick up, which was taken by big Jack Rayner mid field. The big prop found test winger Ian Mior in support on the other flank, and Moir raced over to score out wide. Although Purcell missed the sideline conversion, the score was now 8-7 to Newtown.

The Bluebags responded in classic fashion, with a sweeping backline movement involving Poole, Clay, hooker Ellis and half Whitton, before Ken Considine scored in the corner. Clifford missed the conversion from the sideline, but were leading 11-7 with only five minutes remaining. Souths needed a converted try to win.

With urgency, the Rabbotohs ground play deep in Newtown’s half. However, the Bluebags were content to merely grind their way up field, and hold on for victory. However, Jack Rayner, in possibly the most important play of his career, lashed out with his feet in a ruck. He connected, and the ball bounced dangerously close to the line. Newtown lock Peter Ryan seemed to have the ball covered, but an awkward bounce between his legs enabled Rayner to toe the ball in goal. Despite the frantic attempts by Clifford to force the ball, Col Donohue got his fingers to the leather first, and the try was awarded next to the posts. Purcell, with the weight of the dramatic season on his shoulders, converted, to give Souths a 12-11 lead in the dying minutes of the game

Now Newtown were in desperation. They had managed to get the ball over halfway, despite some rejuvenated Souths defence. Desperate for a chance, a glimmer of hope presented itself with 3 minutes remaining. When Souths prop Norm Nilson belted Ellis in a ruck, referee Col Pearce, in his first ever grand final, awarded Newtown a penalty. Gordon Clifford took the shot from 45 yards out, near touch in front of the Sheridan Stand. He moved in, and struck the ball sweetly. The ball sailed straight toward the uprights, and just as the Newtown fans and players began to celebrate, the ball dropped. It want under the crossbar by a few agonising inches. Souths had held on to win their 15th premiership, 12-11!

No team has ever won a premiership by coming back from the dead so often in a few weeks as Souths did in 1955. For a team that has proudly worn the title of premiers for a record 20 seasons, the 1955 grand final stands alone as their greatest day. It was also a special day for more reasons that that. It was the last grand final before St George started their magnificent run on 11 straight, thus ending a magnificent South Sydney era that had seen them contest seven straight grand finals, and six premierships. And even though the great Clive Churchill did not take part in the action that day, it is fitting that it was he, as Souths coach, brought another five premierships back to Redfern immediately after St George’s run. With a direct hand in half of South Sydney’s 20 premierships, it is fitting that the medal awarded to the man of the match in today’s grand finals bears his name.

South Sydney 12 (I Moir, C Donohoe tries, B Purcell 3 goals)
Newtown 11 (K Considine try, G Clifford 3 goals, field goal)
Crowd 42,466

SOUTH SYDNEY: D Murdoch, I Moir, M Gallagher, M Spencer, D Puren, J Dougherty, C Donohoe, D Donoghue, E Hammerton, N Nilson, J Rayner (c), B Purcell, L Cowie

NEWTOWN: C Clifford, K Considine, B Clay, R Poole (c), R Preston, R Kelly, R Whitton, L Hampson, G Ellis, D Stait, F Narvo, H Holloway, P Ryan

6. 1986 Parramatta v Canterbury Bankstown, Sydney Cricket Ground, September 26th
The Closest Game Of All

The 1986 Grand Final may be remembered as a dour, unattractive game, as the scoreline asserts. But never in the history of the game has there been a decider between two all time great sides at their absolute peak. Never have to sides been so evenly matched. And never has there been a closer grand final. In the end, the only difference was a lone goal to the greatest point scorer Australia had produced. Michael Cronin, recovering from a serious eye injury, was to produce his finest moment

Cronin’s year had been one of frustration. He suffered a detached retina in a trial match, and doctors advised him to retire, or risk permanent blindness. At age 36, he wasn’t ready to retire, and as the Eels surged toward the minor premiership, his keenness for one last hurrah grew. Coach John Monie decided to give him time to test his vision and Mick Cronin made his reserve grade debut in round 16. In that match, he broke his ribs, and was out of action until the major semi final. That game became the first full first grade game that he played in a year. If that wasn’t all, on the morning of the Grand Final, he headed up the F6 for the last time, and got stuck behind a six car pile up! He pulled his car off the road, walked to the crash site, and politely asked a policeman if there was any way he could get to Sydney in a hurry. The policeman freaked when he saw Cronin standing there, and organised a police car to get him to the SCG. He arrived half an hour before kick off!

Despite Parra’s easy win in the major semi final, Canterbury WERE defending premiers, and the memory of 1984 was still vivid in the minds of the Parramatta players. If not, they were reminded quickly when Peter Kelly dropped his knees into Ray Price, and Canterbury’s strong arm tactics came to the fore. Bulldogs coach Warren Ryan was banking on upsetting Parramatta’s attacking flair with niggling penalties, thereby putting pressure on the underdone Cronin kick goals. With impaired vision, Ryan argued, early missed goals would sap his confidence. Paul Langmack was constantly holding down players in tackles when Parramatta were attacking deep in Canterbury territory. But referee Mick Stone would have none of it, and penalised them willingly. Cronin had two shots at goal from such penalties, but they both hit the uprights. Ryan’s plan had started well.

In the 17th minute, Peter Sterling put a beautiful chip over the Canterbury defence close to their line. In a brilliant feat, Brett Kenny dived over the Canterbuty pack, grabbed the ball, and scored. Stone ruled that he hadn’t grounded the ball. Nevertheless, the Eels soldiered on, with the pack playing like demons. Price was in his element, with ruthless defence the order of the day. The ‘bookends’, props Geoff Bugden (whose brother Mark was the Bulldogs hooker) and Terry Leadbeater were not far behind. Parramatta were making Canterbury look lethargic, and Cronin’s third attempt at goal, a majestic kick from a difficult angle, took his total Parramatta points tally to 1999. At half time the Eels lead 2-0.

Parramatta continued in the same vein in the second half, but a Terry Lamb penalty made it 2-all. Canterbury captain Steve Mortimer made his troops realise that, despite their poor performance, that they could yet win the game. The Bulldogs responded, and an increasingly battered Ray Price simply dug in, and tackled himself to the point of exhaustion. The Parramatta pack, on seeing their champion captain do this, decided to do the same. When David Boyle flattened Price, the Eels resolve to out defend Canterbury stiffened even further, and grimly they turned and witnessed another legend, Cronin, post a magnificent goal. It was his 2001st point, his last, and his most important. With 20 minutes to go Parra dug in to defend their slender 4-2 lead.

The goal also stiffened Canterbury’s resolve. Five minutes later, Bulldog fullback Phil Sigsworth tackled Kenny high, and was sent off. With Parramatta tiring, Mortimer urged his troops on, and Canterbury set up camp in the Parramatta half. With five minutes left, winger Andrew Farrar tried to sneak past his opposite, Eric Grothe, and score a try in the corner. When Farrar’s progress was finally halted, over the sideline, no less than six Parramatta defenders peeled themselves up from the ruck. Most of them were forwards. Shortly after, Geoff Bugden was sin binned for tacking a player without the ball. Terry Lamb missed with the long range attempt at goal, but still Canterbury came back. Steve Mortimer instigated one last desperate raid with only a few seconds on the clock, and the raid ended five metres out. With massive overlaps, and Mortimer screaming for the ball, Mark Bugden tried to burrow his way over from dummy half. He was tackled 10cm short of the line, and before he could play the ball, the fulltime siren sounded. Forlornly, Bugden looked up at his defender, and it was none other that Ray Price. Like Cronin’s last kick, Price’s last tackle was a premiership winner. Nevertheless, he couldn’t smile, or even pump his fist in the air in triumph. He was exhausted.

Parramatta had won, 4-2. An emotional Price broke down during the victory speech, as he announced that “This will be the last time I ever play here.” He then called on a beaming Cronin to accept the Winfield Cup with him. Peter Sterling had won the inaugural Clive Churchill Medal. As they did the lap of honour, the realisation had dawned that the two legends, Ray Price and Mick Cronin, had played their final game.

Parramatta 4 (Cronin 2 goals)
Canterbury Bankstown 2 (Lamb Goal)
Crowd: 45,843

PARRAMATTA: P Taylor, M Delroy, M Cronin, S Ella, E Grothe, B Kenny, P Sterling, G Bugden, M Moseley, T Leadbeater

CANTERBURY: P Sigsworth, A Farrar, M Hagan, C Mortimer, S O’Brien, T Lamb, S Mortimer ©, P Kelly, M Bugden, P Tunks, S Folkes, P Dunn, P Langmack

 

5. 1942 Canterbury Bankstown v St George, Sydney Cricket Ground, 12th September
When The Troops Stormed The SCG

The 1942 grand final will be long remembered for the atrocious conditions it was played in. The 26,171 fans that braved the wet day glimpsed two of rugby league’s more unforgettable moments. Both were the fault of the weather.
The game, of course, was played right in the middle of the Second World War. Many in attendance were servicemen on leave, who took the opportunity to see the competitions two newest clubs, Canterbury and St George, fight out for the prize. However, as the rain pelted down mercilessly, the crusty toffs of the SCG Trust refused to open the gates into the empty Members Stand, thus denying the fans one of the few dry areas available. After much agitation, the fence at the eastern hill started to give way midway through the reserve grade match. The crowd simply picked up the separated fence, and began to march straight across the field into the empty Members Stand, thus holding the reserve grade game up!

As one would expect from a game played in mud, the match quickly became a brutal forward slog fest. This played directly into Canterbury’s hands, as the club fielded what has been described as the greatest club front row ever, with props Eddie Burns, Henry Porter and hooker Roy Kirkaldy. Burns was a particular favourite with Berries fans, being a local junior who held the club’s all time try scoring record for over 40 years (before it was broken by Terry Lamb). These three quickly set a solid platform, and it was a Porter pass that sent five eighth Bob Jackson through a narrow gap 25 yards out from their own line. Jackson sped across the mud like a greyhound, and outpaced St George’s Lindwall brothers in a 70 yard sprint to the line. Fullback Lin Johnson converted, and extended the lead to 7-0 soon after with a penalty goal from 35 yards out.

The Lindwalls were St George’s guns. Jack played on the wing, and found himself on the end of a sweeping backline movement that sent him over wide out with 10 minutes remaining. His brother Ray provided the brilliant conversion from the sideline. With two minutes remaining, Berries winger Edgar Newham was caught offside. Ray Lindwall landed the equaliser, and St George had nullified the big Canterbury side’s early advantage. They were valuable points, too, as the ever worsening mud continued to deteriorate

With a 7-7 halftime score, both sides were confident in the second half. However, the conditions gradually prevented St George from using their superior backs. The Canterbury forwards began to dominate possession, but Saints hung on. With 20 minutes remaining, however, St George had worked themselves deep into Canterbury’s territory. A knock on by Johnson saw a scrum pack 35 yards from the Canterbury line. Kirkaldy was penalised for a loose arm, and Ray Lindwall landed the goal. For the first time in the match, Saints were in front 9-7.

However, this lead was short lived. Dragons prop Col Montgomery was penalised for punching Burns in a scrum near his own line. It was a silly act in a game where tries were rapidly becoming impossible, and goals imperative. Johnson’s goal robbed St George of any advantage in the game, and with still 15 minutes left, the scores were tied at 9-9

With the rain still pelting down, and the SCG reduced to little more than a swamp, the crowd remained to a man as the two sides slugged it out during the last 10 minutes. Field position was vital, and Burns and Porter took it upon them to carry their side home. Sensing the urgency, however, Saints also lifted, and threw all they had at the bigger Canterbury side. The mud was everywhere, and players struggled to keep their footing, or to maintain possession. However, it was the more experienced Berries pack that worked their way toward the St George line, where they waited for something to give. With a mere two minutes left on the sodden SCG clock, their chance came.

Ten yards from his own line, Dragons hooker Herb Gilbert was penalised for a scrum infringement. Lin Johnson stepped up to the mark to take the shot for goal. He built his mound in the SCG quagmire 10 yards out, and right in front of the sticks.
With a premiership on the line, Johnson, a player who had played rep football for New South Wales, managed the worst kick of his career. As he moved into the kick, he slipped no the muddy surface, and fell over. Miraculously, his right boot connected with the ball, and in a flying shower of SCG mud and slush, the ball lazily lifted enough to scrape onto the crossbar, and amazingly, fell over the other side! Johnson lay in the mud, too embarrassed to see where the ball went, but was he opened his eyes, he saw the touch judges raise the flags for a goal. Canterbury had bagged their second premiership, 11-9. If the raised flags didn’t confirm it, the patch of mud left on the crossbar did!

Canterbury had to wait 38 years before they tasted premiership glory again. For St George, they experienced heartbreak again four years later, losing to Balmain by a point. That match turned out to be the last game of rugby league for Ray Lindwall. After that, he pursued, his other sporting passion. As a cricketer, he became one of Australia’s finest pace bowlers, and a Test captain, and one of the genuine legends of that sport.

Canterbury Bankstown 11(R Jackson try, L Johnson 4 goals)
St George 9 (J Lindwall try, R Lindwall 3 goals)
Crowd 26,171

CANTERBURY: L Johnson, E Newham, R Bailey (c), R Kight, J Bonnyman, R Jackson, T Ezart, E Burns, R Kirkaldy, M Porter, R Farrar, G Elley, F Spoonberg

ST GEORGE: R Lindwall, D McRitchie, E McHugh, N Jones, J Lindwall, C Turvey, E Laurence, W McRitchie, H Gilbert, C Montgomery, L Kelly ©, A Clarke, W Collier

 
4. 1989 Canberra v Balmain, Sydney Football Stadium, 24th September
When The Tigers Got Raided

There are many people who believe that the 1989 grand final was the greatest game ever played. Certainly, in the way that Canberra won their maiden premiership, and took the JJ Giltinan Shield out of Sydney for the first time, the tale deserved to be preserved as a major turning point in rugby league, if not simply for the thrilling way in which it was done. Balmain were hot favourites to win their 12th title. They had narrowly lost the previous decider to Canterbury, boasted a near test strength pack, and had finished third, behind Souths and Penrith. However, fourth placed Canberra boasted 20 more tries than their nearest rival by the time the minor premiership finished. They had qualified for their second grand final in three years, and only in their eighth season.

Under their aggression loving coach Warren Ryan, Balmain looked to dominate the match with their trademark punishing defence. This allowed them top dominate early field position, and Welshman Andy Currier kicked a penalty goal after seven minutes. Only four rucks later, heavy defence forced Raiders prop Brent Todd to lose possession, and James Grant picked up the loose ball, and raced away to score in the corner. Despite Currier’s failed conversion attempt, the Tigers were up 6-0 after only 10 minutes. Going heavily on the attack, only desperate defence by Mal Meninga (on Garry Jack) and Dean Lance (on Steve Roach) kept a lid on the score. However, midway through the first half, the raiders got a slight reprieve. Paul Sironen was penalised for offside, and Meninga goaled, despite the attempts of a Balmain trainer to put him off.

The Tigers had the best of the first half, and one minute from half time, put on a champagne try. Currier burst onto a perfect pass from Roach, short of halfway. When the cover came across, he kicked infield, but Garry Belcher couldn’t take the catch. James Grant swooped on the ball, and put big Sironen over next to the posts. Grant’s easy conversion took Balmain to a half-time lead of 12-2. Long time Tiger fans were not ignorant to the fact that Balmain had amassed the club’s biggest ever half time lead in a grand final.

However, Canberra had been unlucky not to score themselves at times in the first half. Their luck changed when they grabbed possession deep in the Tigers territory when Bruce Maguire was caught for shepherding. Ricky Stuart found John Ferguson out wide, whose darting run set up Gary Belcher. Belcher stood up Currier with ease and scored. Meninga’s goal reduced the score to 12-8

Balmain had their chances, but just failed to seal victory. Mick Neil was ankle tapped by Meninga, and tacked when in space. Later, Wayne Pearce dropped the ball when only a pass to the unmarked Tim Brasher would have put him over. The Tigers were amassing a 2-12 penalty count against them, and began to tire. With 15 minutes left, coach Ryan looked to freshen up his pack, and replaced Test prop Roach with Kevin Hardwicke. Hardwicke was a noted defender, but the Raiders forwards noted the absence of Balmain’s chief enforcer, and rose a notch in confidence.

Currier scored another penalty goal with 10 minutes to go. At 14-8, Balmain had a six point lead. Ben Elias had two attempts to make it seven with a field goal. Meninga charged down the first, and the second, from 10 metres out and right in front, hit the crossbar, and bounced back into the field of play. Still, the Tigers hung on, and so did Canberra. Something had to give, and with five minutes left, it did. Ryan replaced the Tigers test second rower, Paul Sironen with Michael Pobjie. Another enforcer was gone.

With a last-ditch effort, Canberra camped inside Balmain’s territory, waiting for a chance. It came with just 90 seconds left. Garry Jack failed to take a Chris O’Sullivan kick, and Laurie Daley regathered five meters out. He then lobbed a pass over to Ferguson, who had come infield on instinct. ‘Chicka’, who had tasted defeat with Newtown in 1981, jinked and weaved his way through the Balmain pack, and scored under the posts. Meninga’s goal brought the score’s level at 14 all. Canberra had come back from the brink.

For the third time in history, extra time was needed. Canberra were on a roll, and Balmain were down. Garry Jack knocked on close to his own line after six minutes, and from the ensuing scrum, O’Sullivan landed a field goal. Canberra took the lead 15-14, and settled down to grind Balmain out of the match.

Right at the end of the first extra period, Balmain were forced to do a goal line drop, after Brasher had touched a ball in flight that went dead. Ricky Stuart took the catch 45 meters out, and launched a field goal attempt. It just missed.

The Tigers, however, still had some fight left. Wayne Pearce made a desperate break, but to no avail. A few moments later, the Tiger’s last gasp saw Brasher storm into space, but the defence closed before support could arrive.

With three minutes left, Currier tried to grubber past the defence close to his own line. Meninga gathered the ball, and passed to replacement forward Steve Jackson. In what was by far the most memorable burst in an otherwise forgettable career, the fresh Jackson charged at the line from 20 metres out, and carried four desperate defenders over the line for the match winning try. In scenes of great emotion, Canberra had won, 19-14.

Canberra 19 (G Belcher, J Ferguson, S Jackson tries, M Meninga 3 goals, C O’Sullivan field goal)
Balmain 14 ( J Grant, P Sironen tries, A Currier 3 goals)
Crowd 40,500

CANBERRA: G Belcher, M Wood, M Meninga (c), L Daley, J Ferguson, C O’Sullivan, R Stuart, B Todd, S Walters, G Lazarus, D Lance, G Coyne, B Clyde. SUBS: P Martin, K Walters, S Jackson

BALMAIN: G Jack, S O’Brien, T Brasher, A Currier, J Grant, M Neil, G Freeman, S Roach, B Elias, S Edmed, P Sironen, B McGuire, W Pearce (c), SUBS: K Hardwicke, M Pobjie, S Edwards

 
3. 1965 St George v South Sydney, Sydney Cricket Ground, 17th September
Legendary Crowd, Legendary Teams, Legendary Result

Wherever you stand on the great argument on whether the game, and its players were better in days gone by, or in the present, it’s hard to deny this game’s place in history. It may well go down as the greatest day in domestic Australian Rugby League history. It certainly must be rated as the pinnacle moment in unlimited tackle football. For on this day the ground record was set at the Sydney Cricket Ground (78,056), St George set the all time record for consecutive premierships for any code of football (10), Norm Provan set the premiership record for the most grand final appearances (10), and the NSWRL made a record profit from the match to boot! The day started out as most other grand finals did: with a huge line up at the SGC gates not long after dawn. In fact, many of them had gathered there the night before, wrapped up in blankets and leaning on eskies and picnic baskets. The promise of the all conquering Saints up against a young, brilliant South Sydney side, who had won both encounters 14-4 and 17-8, attracted so many fans that the gates were closed at 1.00pm by police. Many thousands were stranded outside, and, despite police warnings, began to clamber onto the rooftops of the grandstands. Some even climbed the four storey high pavilions in the adjoining showgrounds . In fact, by kick-off, police estimated that a further 20,000 people were perched atop the old structures of Moore Park, taking their lives in their hands!

In the dressing rooms, Saints captain Norm Provan settled himself for the record breaking task at hand. After having faced it all on nine previous occasions, he still faced the pre match butterflies. He was later to admit that he wondered how long the golden run could go on. Souths had beaten them twice already in 1965. Was this the day the bubble would burst?

Souths were eager to get as many points as they could get. They opened scoring with a brilliant penalty goal from halfway by Kevin Longbottom. Soon after, Provan, George Evans and Reg Gasnier combined to put Billy Smith over out wide. Greame Langlands missed the conversion from the sideline, but landed a penalty goal only a few minutes later for Saints to lead 5-2.

St George’s premiership successes had been won on a foundation of their forwards’ brutality. Souths, however, matched them this day. This made for a very entertaining first half, as the young Rabbitohs, John O’Neill, John Sattler and Ron Coote gave back as good as they got. Star Saints lock John Raper sustained a broken thumb, but played on. Referee Col Pearce barely managed to keep the lid on the burgeoning war on the field, which was only relieved when Souths were awarded another penalty on halfway, on the stroke of half time. Longbottom set up the shot for goal, and hit a magnificent kick which sailed straight between the posts, and almost out of the ground.

The kick was estimated to have travelled 70 yards on the fly! At half-time, Saints were up 5-4, but the kick had lifted Souths spirits.

As John Raper get his thumb strapped in the dressing rooms at half time, police were having trouble moving masses of fans off the ground back into the squash of people behind the fence. This actually delayed the second half kick off. However, once on the field, Langlands decided to make up for lost time, and kicked off before Souths were ready. Big John O’Neill knocked on, and gave St George valuable field position deep inside Souths half. The more experienced Dragons’ pack kept the play there and frustrated Souths. A penalty for a Rabbitoh infringement in the play the ball saw Langlands land an easy goal for a 7-4 lead.

Desperate to get out of trouble, Souths’ winger Mike Cleary dashed out of dummy half and kicked downfield, finding touch 30 yards away. Souths won the ensuing scrum, and they sent the ball out wide to Bob Moses, who put a desperate kick in towards the St George in-goal. Raper was there to clean him up, but so was a flying Cleary, who swamped him with a brilliant tackle. That forced a goal line drop out, and left Cleary hurt. But now Souths had the field position.

With 20 minutes to go, another penalty on halfway saw Longbottom with his third long range attempt at goal. The kick, again, was sweet, and the crowd rose to applaud his display. Souths were now only a point behind at 7-6. However, soon after, Saints were awarded a penalty in a similar position. Langlands took the shot, and ever the champion, answered Longbottom’s challenge with his own towering long range goal. Again the crowd roared it’s approval. At 9-6 in front, Saints decided it was time. But Souths weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel just yet.

The Dragons decided to give the ball some air, and Reg Gasnier ended up in a huge gap with no one on front. However, a brilliant cover tackle from Ron Coote brought him to ground short of the line. A few minutes later, Coote repeated his brilliant effort with a try saver on Billy Smith. However, the superior talent of St George was starting to show. Second rower Elton Rasmussen put John King through a gap, and the flying winger raced 20 yards to score in the corner. It was the 6th consecutive grand final that he had scored in. Langlands missed the conversion, but at 12-6, Saints looked comfortable

With 11 minutes remaining, Souths got a penalty from close range. Eric Simms put the ball over, and at 12-8, Souths were a converted try away from the premiership. They steeled themselves for one final effort. However, Saints also steeled themselves for the onslaught. The final 11 minutes were frustrating for Souths. despite pounding the Dragons line, it held firm. Kevin Ryan, Brian Clay and Raper were unmoveable in defence, and with on the back of Ian Walsh’s 11-6 dominance in the scrums, Saints claimed their 10th premiership.

Norm Provan was chaired from the field for the last time. Amid a sea of fans who had spilled out onto the ground, he lifted the J. J. Giltinan Shield, and set off with his team on the lap of honour for the 10th time. It is doubtful that anyone will ever achieve that feat again.

St George 12 (W Smith, J King tries, G Langlands 3 goals)
South Sydney 8 (K Longbottom 3, E. Simms goals)
Crowd 78,056 

ST GEORGE: G Langlands, E Lumsden, R Gasnier, W Smith, J King, B Clay, G Evans, K Ryan, I Walsh (c), R Gourley, N Provan (c), E Rasmussen, J Raper

SOUTH SYDNEY: K Longbottom, E Simms, A Branighan, R Moses, M Cleary, J Lisle (c), I Jones, J O’Neill, F Anderson, J Morgan, J Sattler, R McCarthy, R Coote

2. 1997 Newcastle v Manly Warringah, Sydney Football Stadium, 27th September
When The Knights Saved Rugby League

Sometimes in the darkest hour, comes the greatest ray of light. This game came in an extremely dark hour, and shone like a beacon It had been three years since rugby league had greedily torn itself apart. Court cases, massive player payments, lies, deceit and treachery was rife in the game on a global scale. Super League had arrived, and ripped the code apart at the seams. Where there were 20 teams looking forward to a brilliant future in March, 1995 had turned into a bitter war by August 1997, and the fans stayed away in droves.

Well, not everywhere. Newcastle, the club that had jumped aboard a Paul Harragon hired mini bus to sign with the ARL two years previously, had moulded into a very strong outfit. They needed to be, as the giant BHP steel mill, the lifeblood of the city, was closing it’s doors, and the coal fields that fed it were engrossed in a long running union battle. The Knights were the one shining light, and the city responded. In this time of despair, the team gelled, and made it’s first grand final.

Their opponents were reigning premiers Manly, the team everyone loved to hate. Newcastle had never beaten Manly in their 10 year history. As a result, Manly were hot favourites to win premiership number seven. This didn’t concern the Knights fans, however. What did concern them was the midweek revelation that star halfback Andrew Johns would be playing with a hole in his lung! Manly doctor Nathan Gibbs came out in the press saying that ‘Joey’ could die if he played. The fans responded in the best way they could to Gibbs’ comments. In a magnificent gesture, crowds came out to line the route of the team bus as it sped toward Sydney on the F3 freeway. Fans as far south as Gosford cheered the bus, as the players inside were moved at such a gesture. That night, captain Paul ‘Chief’ Harragon made a promise to his players. Reasoning that ‘you never get sent off in grand finals’ he promised to make Manly pay for the years of defeats and taunts that they had suffered, buy brutalising them in every tackle.

From the opening whistle, Chief Harragon and his pack did exactly that. They brutalised Manly’s forwards near Test strength forwards, and it seemed that they were getting on top. But the class of Manly had shone out through it all, and John Hopoate scored out wide to open the Sea Eagles account. With rookie fullback Shannon Nevin on song as goal kicker, Manly raced to a 16-0 lead, through tries by Steve Menzies and Nevin. An Andrew Johns goal brought the score to 16-2.

After 30 minutes, it looked like the floodgates were about to open. But the Knights pack stuck to their brutality doctrine. Inspirational Manly captain Geoff Toovey was the main target. A small man who loved paying up front, Toovey was knocked out twice, the second time in a sickening incident when Knights winger Adam McDougall stomped on his head in a play the ball. The referee presumed was accidental, in a probably accurate decision, but the Manly fans were outraged. Their outrage did not stop when the Knights finally got on the board shortly before half time. Andrew and Matthew Johns combined to put flying fullback Robbie O’Davis over. As O’Davis celebrated, Andrew Johns converted, and the half-time score was Manly 16-8.

Newcastle started the second half in the same vein as the first, and Manly again looked to weather the storm. However, a penalty conceded deep in their territory gave Andrew Johns a shot right in front, and suddenly it was 16-10. The Knights were pegging back Manly’s big lead, and had scored 10 unanswered points. They lifted their intensity. The game developed into an arm wrestle as the two big packs fought for field position. Manly arrested the scoring for 20 minutes, but as the game wore on Harragon realised that his sides brutal approach was taking it’s toll on the Sea Eagles. The Knights kept up the intensity, knowing that a converted try would bring them level. The tiring Manly pack dug in.

Manly’s forwards had worked the ball close to the posts, and Cliff Lyons had a field goal attempt. The shot, from only 10 metres out, sailed wide. With 10 minutes to go, Matthew Johns probed close to the line, and found O’Davis, as usual, in support. O’Davis jinked and weaved, and dived for the line. He crashed into the post, but rebounded over the line. ‘Joey’ couldn’t wait to take the kick, which he banged over from right in front. Newcastle had come back from the brink to put 16 unanswered points on. With 10 minutes to go, both sides were locked at 16-all.

Two minutes later, Matthew Johns was the first to take the attempt at field goal. From 10 metres out, and under heavy pressure of a charge down by Manly backrower Nik Kosef, the ball hit the upright, and Lyons fell on it. Manly breathed a sigh of relief. With a seemingly last ditch effort, their big forwards Mark Carroll, Niel Tierney, Menzies and Kosef worked the ball out of danger, but the side was tiring badly, and it wasn’t long before Newcastle regained possession in good field position.

The Knights pack then worked the ball back downfield. With two minutes to go, and looking the stronger side, prop Tony Butterfield knocked on 30 metres out. He hung his head, in the belief that their last chance was lost. Manly won the ensuing scrum, but could not hold possession. On halfway, with 90 seconds left, Newcastle regained possession.

It took 75 agonising seconds before the ball was worked close to the Manly line. With 17 seconds left, the ball was passed to Matthew Johns. He believed that it was the very last play. At 10 metres out, and right in front, he dropped the ball into his right foot, and launched the field goal attempt but it was charged down. The ball bounced back and the tackle count restarted. Winger Darren Albert, hopelessly out of position, had fallen on it. The hooter had not sounded, so Matthew Johns quickly repositioned himself for another snap attempt.

Albert couldn’t play the ball quick enough. There was only one problem. Andrew Johns was dummy half, and in a split second of madness, didn’t pass the ball to his brother. Instead, he ran blind, and found that Hopoate, the marker, had gone in to try and cut off the kick. Andrew Johns then calmly drew the defence, and passed to Albert, who ran through the gap, past a disbelieving Cliff Lyons, and scored under the posts. Manly had led for all but the last six seconds. Newcastle were premiers.

The welcome the Knights received in Newcastle was so raucous that it outranked Adelaide’s reaction to their maiden AFL premiership, in a city five times Newcastle’s size. For a code left struggling with the pain of Super League, the win was a much needed shot in the arm. Soon after, the game reunited, with Newcastle as worthy premiers.

Newcastle 20 (O’Davis 2, Albert tries, A Johns 4 goals)
Manly 16 (Hopoate, Nevin, Menzies tries, Nevin 2 goals)
Crowd: 42,482

NEWCASTLE: R O’Davis, D Albert, A MacDougall, O Craigie, M Hughes, M Johns, A Johns, A Butterfield, B Peden, P Harragon (c), W Richards, A Muir, M Glanville. SUBS: T Fletcher, S Conley, L Jackson, S Crowe

MANLY: S Nevin, D Moore, C Innes, T Hill, J Hopoate, G Toovey (c), C Field, D Gillespie, A Colella, M Carroll, S Menzies, D Gartner, N Kosef. SUBS: N Tierney, S Fulton, C Lyons, A Hunter

1. 1977 St George v Parramatta, Sydney Cricket Ground, 17th September
The Greatest Game Of All

Geoff Greenwood, editor of Australian Rugby League’s Greatest Games (Murray Publishers, Sydney, 1979) called this match ‘The game of the Century’. Despite 22 years of thrilling matches since then, if we take a step away from the most recent memories that seem to dominate one’s mind, it is hard to argue that his assessment of the 1977 Grand Final is wrong. The first drawn decider, the first extra time, and a bumper crowd made a great game all the more special. The more experienced Parramatta side went in as favourites against a young, enthusiastic Dragons outfit. However, it was St George that came out firing on all guns in the first half. Led by a particularly brutal defensive display by ‘Rocket’ Rod Reddy, the Dragon pack dominated field position in the first half. With tiny half Mark Shulman making much ground through the bigger Eels pack, Saints were on a roll. ‘Lord’ Ted Goodwin had landed two penalty goals, looked to take a handy 4-0 lead, but right on the stroke of half-time, he put a neat chip kick in on halfway. The ball landed near Parra’s lanky fullback Phil Mann, but before he could control it, Goodwin kicked again into open space, leaving Mann clutching at this air. A foot race ensued between Goodwin and the Eels backs Ed Sulkowicz and Greame Atkins, as the ball dribbled under the uprights. Goodwin launched himself at the ball, and grounded it just short of the dead ball line, knocking himself out in the process. He had just kicked the ball 50 metres and beaten everybody to it, in one of the greatest individual tries seem in a decider. Graham Chapman converted the goal, and although he took no further part in the match, Lord Ted had given saints a very handy 9-0 lead at the break.

Saints were quick to pick up where they left off after the break, and spared no energy in their continued brutal defence. Reddy in particular seemed to be targeting Eel lock Ray Price, and gave away some early penalties as a result. This played into Parramatta’s hands, as their main strike weapon in his first season with the club, Mick Cronin, took the penalties, and converted them into points. His 3 pressure goals gradually brought Parra back to 9-6, and back in the game. The battered Eels pack dug in, and Saints began to tire from their whirlwind start. As the clock ticked down, however, they hung on, and hung on. Then the Eels struck.

With three minutes to go, Parra had grafted their way deep into Dragon Territory. They spun the ball wide to Cronin, who did what he was to become famous for on the ensuing decade. He drew 3 crucial defenders out wide and still managed to slip the ball to Price, only 5 yards away from the line. Price surged through the gap, put on a desperate sidestep, and an equally desperate pass to Sulkowicz, who crashed over in the Paddington corner. 65,000 eyes then trained on Cronin, as he lined up the conversion.

Mick Cronin had been bought to do this very thing: kick the Eels to a maiden premiership. He took his time over the kick, and then moved in. With the scores locked a 9-9, and 1 minute left on the clock, the ball sailed wide. Saints tried a shallow kick off, which was taken by Parra. Two rucks later, the hooter sounded. For the first time ever, a grand final had been drawn at full-time. For the first time ever, 10 minutes extra time each way would be played.

This was totally uncharted waters. From this point on, neither coach, captain, players, trainers or officials had any sort of game plan. Nowadays, the importance of a field goal in such situations is well known. But in 1977, both sides, bloodied and weary after 80 gruelling minutes could only thing of scoring tries. Saints appeared gone, and Parra started extra time with more enthusiasm. However, the pressure of winning the clubs first premiership was considerable. Prop Graham Olling made a break close to the line, but failed to pass to an unmarked Ron Hilditch. Parra had the better of the first extra period, but after 10 minutes, Saints had still held them to 9-9

The Dragons took strength from this, and the pendulum started swinging their way. Players from both sides had begun to drop like flies due to leg cramps and exhaustion. Play was stopped constantly as trainers worked overtime to keep their sides on their feet. It was St George who realised the importance of the field goal, and Shulman and centre John Chapman both had unsuccessful attempts. With three minutes to go, Tony Quirk had an attempt, which hit the upright and bounced back into the field of play.

Parra regained possession, but with three minutes to travel 90 yards, the task was beyond them. A St George knock on with a minute to go saw a scrum pack 35 yards out from the Parramatta line, near the sideline. John Kolc fed the scrum, but was penalised by referee Gocher for an incorrect feed. In the days before the differential scrum penalty, Saints captain Steven Edge called Quirk over to take the kick. On the sideline, coach Harry Bath screamed to Edge to give Chapman the kick instead. So it was Chapman who lined up the kick, like Cronin 20 minutes earlier, to break the 9-9 deadlock, and snare the premiership. With 65,000 pairs of eyes trained on him like hawks, he launched into the kick. The ball sailed wide. After 100 minutes of play, the longest ever game of rugby league had ended in a draw.

The rest of this story is now history. Saints met at a team barbecue, and resolved to not let the chance slip away from them in the replay. They had no hope of knowing the drama that was unfolding at Parramatta. In the Eels dressing room, Olling showed his club doctor bite marks on his back. Ray Price’s face was bloodied and bruised. It was as if Rod Reddy had used him as a punching bag, according to the Eels tough as teak skipper Ray Higgs. Higgs wanted to return fire in the replay, and with the backing of the team, he approached coach Terry Fearnley, a noted advocate of fair play. Fearnley refused to allow his players licence to retaliate, and stood his ground as the players, one by one, reluctantly agreed to abide by his wishes. The replay saw Saints again play it as tough, and it worked. Parra were never in the game, and Saints claimed their 14th premiership, their first since their run of 11 straight, with a 22-0 win. It had only taken them 180 minutes to do so!

St George 9 (Goodwin try, Goodwin 2, Chapman goals)
Parramatta 9 (Sulkowicz try, Cronin 3 goals)
Crowd: 65,989


ST GEORGE: E Goodwin, B Butler, G Quinn, R Finch, J Chapman, R McGregor, M Shulman, C Young, S Edge (c), B Starkey, J Jansen, R Stone, R Reddy. SUBS: J Bailey, A Quirk

PARRAMATTA: P Mann, J Porter, M Cronin, E Sulkowicz, G Atkins, M Levy, J Kolc, J Baker, R Hilditch, G Olling, G Gerard, R Higgs (c), R Price. SUBS: D Fitzgerald, J Peard

 

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The British Invasion

Published in Thirteen in 2005

by Jason Emery

The British Invasion

From the late 1960s up to the start of Super League in 1996 when the competition moved to the summer months, British rugby league players were always in high demand down under and over a hundred players played at the highest level during this period.
Whether it was guest stints or long-term contracts at the Aussie clubs, the British stars were nearly always popular figures on and off the field and they brought a new dimension to the Australian style, adding a range of attacking flair never before seen in the Aussie game.
In recent years only Adrian Morley at the Sydney Roosters has made a similar impact in the NRL and with the two competitions now running parallel the number of Brits trying their luck in the NRL has become a rarity.
Here we’ve compiled a list of over 100 British players and the Australian clubs that they played for. Then we pick our top ten.
 

BALMAIN TIGERS: Dave Bolton, Brian Lockwood, Jim Fiddler, Dave Topliss, Tony Myler, John Bentley, Andy Currier, Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks, Shaun Edwards, Daryl Powell, Keith Barnes (Welsh RU)

BRISBANE BRONCOS: Harvey Howard

CANBERRA RAIDERS: Kevin Beardmore

CANTERBURY BULLDOGS: Brian Lockwood, Doug Laughton, Mick Adams, Eric Hughes, Colin Whitfield, Gary Connolly, Jonathon Davies, Merv Hicks, Alan Burwell

CRONULLA SHARKS: Tommy Bishop, Cliff Watson, Bob Wear, Paul Bishop, Roger Millward, Vince Farrer, Dave Eckersley, Jeff Grayshon, Mike Gregory, Brian Noble, Allan Bateman, Billy Benyon

GOLD COAST: Dean Sampson, Graham Steadman, David Myles, Paul Bishop, Gary Divorty, Daryl Powell, Paul Dixon, Gary Charlton, Richie Mathers

ILLAWARRA STEELERS: Steve Hampson, Andy Gregory, Andy Kelly

MANLY SEA EAGLES: Malcolm Reilly, Steve Norton, Phil Lowe, John Gray, Andy Goodway, Bernard Dwyer, John Devereux, David Myles, Gary Stephens, Hugh Waddell, Kevin Ward, Fred Pickup

MELBOURNE STORM: Keith Mason, Ian Sibbit, Gareth Widdop

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: Chris Joynt, Lee Jackson, Brian Carney, James McManus

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS: Denis Betts, Andy Platt

NEWTOWN JETS: Charlie Renilson

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS: Jonathan Davies, Kevin Ellis

NORTH SYDNEY BEARS: John Gray, Jim Mills, Jim Fiddler, Merv Hicks

PARRAMATTA EELS: Ivor Lingard, Dean Sampson, Vince Fawcett, Chris Thorman

PENRITH PANTHERS: Mike Stephenson, Bill Ashurst, Tracey Lazenby, David Topliss

PERTH REDS: Barrie-Jon Mather, Daio Powell

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS: Henderson Gill, Lee Jackson, Gary Price, Sam Burgess

SOUTH QUEENSLAND CRUSHERS: Mike Ford, St John Ellis

ST GEORGE DRAGONS: Dick Huddart, Martin Offiah, Ken Batty, Steve McNamara, Robin Gourley (Irish RU), Richard Gay

SYDNEY ROOSTERS: Bobby Goulding, Mike Ford, Phil Clarke, Joe Lydon, Harvey Howard, Martin Offiah, Adrian Morley, Mark Edmondson, Jordan Tansey

WESTERN SUBURBS: Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks, Des Drummond, Steve Henderson, Deryck Fox, Kelvin Skerrett, Harvey Howard, David Myles

WESTS TIGERS: Gareth Ellis, Mark Flanagan

 

THE TOP TEN

Ellery Hanley
The Black Pearl was an inspiration for the Balmain Tigers and almost single handedly won them the competition in 1988. Aussie fans still talk in awe of his classy performances which saw Hanley rip defences to shreds with his evasive ball running and distribution. He had the ability to make something out of nothing and he was one of the biggest crowd pleasers to play in Australia.

Malcolm Reilly
Reilly earned a reputation for being one of the most skilful and toughest players ever to lace on a boot and such was the regard in which he is held in the Australian game, he was recently named in the Team of the Seventies, becoming the first and only Brit to be named in the prestigious team. Reilly won two grand finals with Manly and also won the 1997 ARL title as coach of Newcastle.

Tommy Bishop
Bishop proved to be a wonderful organising half for the Sharks during the successful early 70′s. Along with fellow Brit Cliff Watson, Bishop spearheaded Cronulla’s charge to the 1973 grand final where they went within a whisker of upsetting Manly. He went on to coach Cronulla.

John Gray
Gray initially made his mark when he introduced the ‘around the corner’ goalkicking style to Australia in 1974 whilst playing for Great Britain. After that tour he signed for the North Sydney Bears where he displayed a wide range of ball skills and was known for his slick service from acting half. Gray also had the ability and physique to play prop or second row.

 

Phil Lowe
The big, dynamic wide running back rower caused havoc to opposition defences during his years with the Sea Eagles. After impressing for Great Britain in 1973, Lowe signed for Manly and continued his great form in Australia, he formed a devastating partnership with fellow Englishmen Steve Norton and Gary Stephens.

Garry Schofield
For both the Tigers and the Magpies, Schoey was an outstanding player who could score a try out of nothing. Playing mainly in the centres Schofield was always at his best in the big games, revelling in the semi finals. He had a good pair of hands and had a dangerous short kicking game.

Adrian Morley
After a fairly slow start mainly due to injury, Morley lived up to his big reputation which he earned in the UK about halfway through his first season and has since gone on to be one of the worlds most intimidating forwards. Punishing in defence and a strong direct runner, Morley is very mobile for his size and has good acceleration. Mozza started out in the backrow for the Roosters but has moved to prop in recent times and he remains one of the few forwards in the NRL to play eighty minutes every week.

Kevin Ward
Another of Manly’s British connection, Ward has the respect of every Australian fan who saw him play. He will always be famous for his man of the match performance against Canberra in the 1987 grand final. In a game played in over 30 degree heat, Ward continually took the ball forward and wore down his opponents in one of the best games ever by a prop. His aggressive style was very well suited to the ARL.

Mike Stephenson
Stevo played for Penrith in the early seventies and he brought a new dimension to the term hooker. He was great out of acting half and was a great line breaker. As well as being fast and skilful, Stephenson’s experience was vital in a young Panthers and he proved to be a wonderful leader and is still highly regarded at the Penrith club today.

Cliff Watson
Perhaps not the most skilful prop but Watson was one of the toughest. He played a major role in the Cronulla success of the early 70’s and he was the enforcer of the pack. Not a player to be messed with, Watson was like a minder for the tiny, mercurial half Tommy Bishop. The 1973 grand final against Manly remains the bloodiest games of all time and big Cliffy was at the peak of his powers.

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Ones to Watch 2006

Published in Thirteen in 2006

by Jason Emery

 
Ones to Watch in 2006.
(Have re-published this as it’s interesting to see which made the fulfilled their potential and which haven’t.)

 
Ashley Gibson – Leeds
Keen Academy followers of Leeds Rhinos rate 19-year-old Ash Gibson as one of the best juniors to emerge for the past five years which is really saying something considering that the likes of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Chev Walker have gone on to become internationals and another boom youngster, Lee Smith, has recently graduated to the first team.

Gibson is equally adept at fullback or centre and has even played loose forward on several occasions. He is of solid build, has a very deceptive running style and is a lot faster than he looks. His good footwork and natural strength allows him to glide past defenders with ease.

2005 was a massive year for the former Stanningley amateur who made his Super League debut against Leigh and will go down as being only the seventh player in the history of the Leeds club to score a hat-trick on debut joining an impressive array of names which includes the likes of Eric Grothe, Cliff Lyons and Marcus Bai. If that wasn’t enough, he also kicked five goals for a total of 22 points, not bad for starters.

This prolific point-scorer topped the charts for the Academy with 320 points which paved the way for his inclusion into the England Under-18s for the second year in a row, this time against the French, where he played in the centres and scored 32 points with two tries and 12 goals.

So far in 2006, Gibson has played in a couple of the clubs friendlies and he has performed well, especially against Wakefield when, playing in the centres, he scored two good tries and looked a class act. With his utility value, the pressure will be on the incumbents to perform.

 
James Graham – St Helens
It must be quite daunting for a teenager to be rubbing shoulders with a host of the game’s biggest stars, but young forward James Graham seems to revel in the situation. Last year, James had progressed from the new kid on the block to blossom into one of the most consistent prop/second rows in Super League. In what was a breakthrough season, he played over 20 games and kept more experienced, high-profile players out of the side.

James is a model professional who has a massive future in the game. Apart from his great attitude, his strengths are his extra speed which provides strong go forward and he has developed a neat off load before he hits the line. Over the past year there has been a notable difference in Graham’s physique with the obvious benefits of turning pro. He is taller and has less body fat, thus allowing him to cope with the demands of playing up front week-in, week-out.

He had the huge honour of captaining the England Academy on their history-making tour to Australia and New Zealand in 2004 where they beat the Aussies for the first time ever on home soil, also beating the Junior Kiwis and it was the skipper who showed his outstanding leadership skills continually driving the ball forward and rallying his troops, leading them to their magnificent achievements on tour.

St Helens look to have a superb squad full of quality and depth and James Graham will be competing for his spot with a pack of internationals like Lee Gilmour, Vinnie Anderson and Jon Wilkin but you can rest assured if he carries on from where he left off last year then his name will be on the team sheet every week.

 
Jamie Langley – Bradford
Outstanding in the World Club Challenge win over Wests Tigers, ex-England Academy skipper Jamie Langley has always been a player of enormous potential and natural ability. He has been a regular in the Bulls squad over the past few seasons but without ever really establishing himself enough to nail down the number-13 spot in the starting line-up.

Last season Langley was used mainly as an impact player who could come off the interchange bench and be a potent attacking weapon out wide. His form in the play-offs was almost good enough to warrant a spot in the Great Britain squad with the highlight being his two try performance in the sensational win at St Helens. However a shoulder injury prevented him from taking part in any of the end of season rep games.

Still just 22 years of age, if Langley can add some consistency to his game then he can become one of Super League’s most dominant players and selection for Great Britain will be a formality.

 

Andy Kain – Castleford
20-year-old scrum half Andy Kain is perhaps under as much pressure as any other player entering into the new Super League season.

While it is generally agreed that the Tigers have assembled what looks to be a competitive forward pack, many experts believe that Castleford could struggle in the halves and out wide given their lack of experience and big name players. Some fans expected to see a major signing to bolster the halves, but in Andy Kain, the ex England Schoolboys star, we feel the Tigers have one of the best up and coming young British half backs in the game with a mature head on young shoulders and a good kicking game.

Kain is very nimble on his feet and has the acceleration to speed through a gap in a flash, if the Tigers forwards such as Nutley and Sculthorpe can provide a good platform as expected and offload in the tackle then you can bet Andy Kain will be sniffing around in support, ready to take full advantage.

He certainly has the ability to develop into a top class halfback.

 
Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook – Harlequins
Louis who?, many will ask, but once fans set eyes on this promising young prop they won’t forget him in a hurry. He is a real personality player who loves it tough. He only knows one pace and that’s fast.

Whilst the 19-year-old may be very raw, Harlequins may have discovered a real diamond in the former Greenwich Admirals junior who, in 2004, was named as BARLA’s player of the tour to Australia following an outstanding season with the Broncos Academy side.

Last year Louis spent the season on loan with Hull FC where he was a part of the successful under 21 premiership winning team. That experience played a massive part of his development and when the Broncos became the Harlequins, Louis returned from up north with his typical determination and enthusiasm to make it at Super League level.

In his recent debut in the pre-season against Les Catalans, Louis was regarded as the best prop on the pitch amongst Temata, Mills, Chan and Guisset. There’s much more to come.

 
Matt Gardner – Huddersfield
Amongst the host of star signings made by the Giants for 2006, one signing in particular seemed to go largely unnoticed which was that of 20-year-old winger Matt Gardner from Leeds Rhinos, who is the younger brother of Saints’ Ade.

While Matt is very big for a winger standing at 192 cm and weighing nearly 100 kilos, he is one of the fastest runners at the club and should prove to be a difficult proposition for opponents to handle.

He played a starring role for the England Academy side (pictured) in the historic 2002 series win over the Australian Schoolboys and now he has been given the opportunity at Super League level, it is one this prolific try scorer will want to make the most of.

The two vital components that the Giants lacked out wide in 2005, at times, was genuine size and speed and this season Gardner will provide them with both, when given his chance in the side.

 

Kirk Yeaman – Hull
Will 2006 be the year Kirk Yeaman goes from being a very good centre to a great centre?

Yeaman has a reputation for being one of the games most dedicated trainers and is renowned at his club for being first into the gym and the last to leave.

One of Kirk’s greatest strengths is hitting the line at high speed and he formed a wonderful combination with the ball playing skills of Paul Cooke towards the end of last season. A night the fans won’t forget in a hurry was the night Hull spoiled the Andrew Johns party in the play-offs at the Halliwell Jones stadium and that was possibly Yeaman’s finest display in Super League yet.

Given the below par performances of both Keith Senior and Martin Gleeson in the Tri Nations for Great Britain, the centre positions could be up for grabs and, if Yeaman continues his rapid progress, he will be surely come into the minds of the selectors for the 2006 tour Down Under.

 

Gregory Mounis – Les Catalans
Keep an eye out for the talented young loose forward Gregory Mounis who has already played a dozen internationals for his country and has stood out at that level against both Australia and New Zealand.

Mounis has displayed an impressive array of ball skills and he has a great understanding with scrum half Julien Rinaldi, his team mate for both club and country.

Originally a stand off, Mounis has grown in stature over the past three years and now has the perfect build for a mobile loose forward where the strength of his game is his ability to hit the defensive line on the fringes of the ruck and off load to his support players.

Mounis is such a mature player that it’s easy to forget that he is only 20 years of age. He captained his country at junior levels and he seems destined to lead France again in the future. Maybe that will happen at the 2008 World Cup.

 
Karl Fitzpatrick – Salford
One of Super League’s most exciting players of 2005 was Karl Fitzpatrick whose scorching pace and unpredictability combined to produce many magic moments for the Reds, although, sadly injury took out a large chunk of the season for the former halfback who has now found a home at fullback.

In a Salford team which is rather more workmanlike than blessed with outstanding individuals, fans will be hoping for an injury-free season for Fitzpatrick so coach Karl Harrison can continue to give him a free reign in attack. The experience gained in the Euro Nations Cup playing for Ireland will have given him the taste for the Representative scene and he will be a key player in the lead up to the World Cup.

With Super League getting tougher and tougher every season, it could only take a split second of Fitzy brilliance to turn a match such as in the games against London Broncos, for those who saw the match winning tries at the Willows last season will know that again in 2006, Karl Fitzpatrick is the one to watch.

 
Jon Whittle – Wakefield
The Wildcats look to have picked up a real find in the exciting centre Jon Whittle. The 23-year-old has been compared to a younger Martin Gleeson with his speed and footwork and fans will be hoping that Whittle can add a bit of magic to the Wildcats’ backline which lacked a bit of class at times last season.

Signed from the relegated Widnes Vikings, Whittle was one of the real shining lights in a poor year and he was one of the few players to really perform anywhere near his best. Signed by Widnes from Wigan Warriors, Whittle had dabbled in a bit of rugby union for Orrell but it didn’t last long as he soon returned to Wigan for whom he had previously played Academy league in 2001 and 2002.

Jon should be excited about the prospect of playing outside the likes of Ben Jeffries, Jamie Rooney and Sam Obst, players who should provide him with some early ball and, with a bit of space, and the right service, then watch him make an impact on the eleventh Super League season.

 
Andy Bracek – Warrington
They say prop forwards don’t mature until their late 20s and if that’s the case, then we are in for a treat with 18-year-old Andy Bracek, who, standing at almost 190 cm and weighing in at 100kg, has pace, mobility and toughness in abundance.

Bracek also has the ball skills in his armour to trouble opposition defences. One of the features of his game is he can pop a pass from anywhere with one particular admirer being Andrew Johns, who Bracek was lucky enough to play with during Johns’ short stint in England.

Coach Paul Cullen used Bracek off the bench to great effect late last season, when he could come on against tired defences and put on some neat footwork to beat his opponents. However, if Bracek can start well and prove his consistency, he may well force his way into the starting thirteen.

With big Paul Rauhihi joining the Wolves pack, competition for places will be intense which, in the long run, will do Bracek no end of good.

 
Harrison Hansen – Wigan
The tall, rangy second rower Harrison Hansen exceeded everyone’s expectation in 2005 by playing superbly in over 20 games and narrowly missing out on the Super League Young player of the year award.

While serious injury to Gareth Hock and Sean O’Loughlin, plus the loss of Andy Farrell and Luke Davico, opened the door, the athletic Hansen was a revelation in a tough season for the Warriors. Perhaps more known as a dynamic running backrower, his defence also caught the eye and he should be proud of his efforts in his debut season.

Now, after a rigorous off-season where he has bulked up, this year looms as another big one for Hansen as he faces a massive challenge for a place in the Wigan side with Danny Tickle, Bryan Fletcher and Hock.

He’s a class act who will be a key player for the Wigan side in 2006 and a star at the club for years to come if he fulfils his potential.

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Wally Lewis (3)

Interview with Wally Lewis about his spell at Wakefield in 1983/84 for Thirteen in 2005

Wally Lewis played ten times for Wakefield Trinity in the 1983/84 season having signed on 3rd December 1983. He scored six tries which included a hat trick in a 31-22 defeat of St Helens in the league and two more in a 19-7 first round Challenge Cup win over Halifax. Despite Lewis’s exploits, Wakefield finished third from last that season. But, more than anything, his stint at the club is remembered more for the fact that he drove a notoriously hard bargain with the club and managed to secure himself a £1,000-per-game deal, which didn’t go down too well with some of his teammates
Lewis went on to enjoy a dream 12 months in 1984, and was awarded the first-ever Golden Boot by Open Rugby for his exploits that year.

 
Wally, what are your memories of your playing days in England at Wakefield Trinity?
I enjoyed my time there. I certainly enjoyed the association with the club but I could understand some of the problems. It was promoted as a financial windfall for me and understandably a number of the players were shitty or jealous or annoyed that it didn’t promote the club in the correct fashion.

How did the negotiations go?
When the first offer of about £150 a game was made to me I rejected it. When the calls continued I carried on knocking them back. I then thought the only way I’d get rid of them was to suggest a huge amount. So I did and they agreed! Then I said they’d have to bring my brother too and they were okay with that so I thought there’s no getting out of this! In the end I thought it would be okay and I began to look forward to it.

What do you remember of Barry Hough, the benefactor who paid your wages?
He was a wonderful bloke. He probably thought the club didn’t assist him in the correct way though but I had the opportunity to thank him every day because he’d pop into the hotel I was living in.

How did your brother Scott’s career pan out?
After England he continued his first grade career with Wynnum Manly in Brisbane then went to the Broncos but only played reserve grade there for two years. He went back to Brisbane club football but experienced every footballer’s worst nightmare and did his cruciate ligaments and that was the end of the footy for him.

There are some great comments about the game at Whitehaven in your first book, “The King.”
(laughs…)Oh mate…we’d got off the bus and had to walk for about half a mile in the freezing cold with the other guys calling me a whinging Aussie prick! I remember a big crowd and thought that was great but before we started most went home! Apparently they’d been for the whippets! “They’ve all shot through and gone home” I was told. I remember my studs cracking on the solidified mud and thinking they’d call it off and there were suggestions we’d come back on the Tuesday night and I said “you blokes are kidding! We’ve been on the bus for ages. It’ll be just as tough and just as cold on Tuesday. Let’s just get the damned thing played! They were hard bastards to play against!”

You got engaged in Wakefield didn’t you?
Yeah I did. It was on Christmas Day and it was another reason to look back on my time in Wakefield with fond memories.

What do you remember of the other players?
Colin Maskill was one who stood out. He was the Great Britain Under-19 hooker and had a lot of talent. Masky came over to stay with me for a while and he certainly did have some skills. He could have gone a lot further in the game than he actually did.

There is a well-known anecdote of a bloke sledging you because of what you earned and your response. What exactly happened?
(laughs…)Yeah! When I went on the field he gave me a backhander. As soon as I walked on the bloody field! (Lewis attempts an English accent…) “How are you feeling thousand pounds a match man?!” I just thought “Jeez…!” Then he said it during the game but we were losing so I wasn’t really in a position to be cheeky back. Late on he got me across the nose and said it again so I thought “f**k this!” and went, “about £900 better off than you, you pommy bastard!” Later in the bar he bought me a pint and we laughed it off.

What did you think of the difference in standards compared to what you were used to?
Well I was living above Brian Briggs’s pub and we did a lot of drinking. It wasn’t the best preparation I suppose! I remember training being a game of touch and a couple of laps around the field. We played Peter Sterling’s Hull and dominated for 65 minutes but we fell away and they scored three or four tries in the last ten minutes. Our lack of fitness stood out like dogs’ balls. I said to Scott that we should do something about it because the fitness wasn’t there. So I persuaded the coach to let me do a skills and fitness session but half way through, with players’ faces reddening, they complained, “tell this bastard he’s not in charge!” So the coach took over again!
The one thing that really stood out was that in Australia the players with jobs, some in the media, would get understanding from their employers. But in Wakefield they’d come straight out of the mines. They’d have shit all over their faces and go straight onto the football field. For some of those kids it was tough stuff.

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Wally Lewis (2)

Wally Lewis told me about his Queensland career as part of Thirteen’s 16-page State of Origin feature in 2005…

Tell us about Senator Ron McAuliffe and his importance in the concept of State of Origin…
He was a lifeline. Without him it was doubtful that it would have gone ahead. There was some criticism from NSW club about the interstate series continuing because they believed it was an opportunity for injuries. To a certain extent I suppose it was a correct statement. NSW were winning them by a considerable margin. It was embarrassing.

Did you play much in the Inter-state games?
Not really. My first game was in 1979. I had a dream about turning the tide. I was like any other young boy dreaming about Queensland but always trudged away from Lang Park shattered. We were always in the battle for three quarters of the game. I’d be thinking we were going to win but it didn’t happen. When we did win an inter-state game, about once every twenty years, it was declared a bloody national holiday! It was getting embarrassing and Ron started putting it on to Ken Arthurson to come up with State of Origin. There were some questions about whether it’d go ahead. His argument was always “if you give us our players back we will beat you. You’re raping our playing strengths year after year after year. You’ve had the opportunity to provide the finance because of your poker machines.” He always promised Queensland would win in a State of Origin.

What are your memories of the inaugural game? You played loose forward didn’t you?
Yeah that was the position I played from my very first match as a seven year old boy. It was a dream come true. I’d been selected to play in the team alongside some of the legends of the sport especially the great Arthur Beetson. The greatest memory was the noise that erupted at Lang Park when he was introduced when we walked onto the field. We were told we’d be introduced to the crowd individually. All the players were welcomed onto the field. When it was Arthur’s turn…I’ve said this many times….I’ve never heard a noise to level that sound. I don’t think there ever will be another sound to match that one.

What about the 1981 Origin? It was a great game but not often talked about…
In 1981 – that was something else. There was confusion with that game. It was no longer a promotional match. I can remember going into the game thinking “we’ve still got Arthur.” He was approaching 36 so it was going to be difficult for him but he was still playing some wonderful football. I remember he came up to me after the side was selected and said “mate you’re going to have to captain the side.” I said “What?! I’m only 21!” He said “I’m no good.” He had an injury and also a huge cut over one eye. “My form’s shit anyway. I don’t deserve to be picked in the team.” At that stage I’d just taken over the captaincy at my club side, Valleys, and only had six or eight games under my belt.
I was so nervous and we knew NSW would come back at us to reverse the loss from 1980. The game was being promoted by the NSW media as the game they’d be taking seriously. It appeared it’d be tough and we were soon 15-0 down. We managed to score just before half time which lifted our spirits and I remember at half time and Arthur came up to me and said “look you’re the captain. If we are any hope in this game it’s up to you. All the hope rests on your shoulders.” I thought “gee!”
But I scored a try just as we took to the field which lifted us more and we were only five points behind. We bunged on a bit of a blue later on. Ray Price got a bit worked up, knowing they were struggling. Then we levelled it. Then we got another one. I said to our guys, “it might be time to start another fight! They’re getting shittier by the minute here!” So, we’d won two from two and Queenslanders knew that State of Origin was their game.

What about the theory that the Blues didn’t try as hard?
Every time they lost the Sydney media claimed they hadn’t been taking it seriously and it used to piss me off. The journos said we were taking it more seriously. We should have got a journo to stand up to a NSW player and tell them they weren’t taking it seriously because I guarantee you they wouldn’t repeat that accusation. On the field they were putting in 100%. We knew they were playing tough and were very difficult to defeat.

What about the 1983 series and the deciding game at Lang Park?
We smashed them to bits in that decider in Queensland. 33-0 up in the first half!. I just grabbed my blokes and said: “look at the scoreboard. It‘s 33-0 at the moment! You might not see a scoreboard like that again. This is how well you blokes are playing at the moment” It ended up 43-22 but the way we smashed the Blues to bits in the first half was great. We just demoralised them.

In 1987, with you playing stand off, were you worried about Allan Langer’s call up given his inexperience and lack of size?
Yeah I was. I’d played against Alf in a couple of matches and defence wasn’t his strongest point at that stage. We’d played against him at Ipswich the week before and while he was good in attack, our club half back (who just happened to be a New South Welshman) got through Alfie a few times. Bennett noticed and bought it up a selection meeting and I said “all I can tell you is that he struggled in defence at the weekend and he may be a target for NSW.” Bennett looked at me and said “Thanks.” That was it and I went. Ten minutes later they’d named the side and Langer was in. It was a surprise and the meeting amounted to my opinion not being worth two bob.
In training we were going through our defensive patterns and Bennett said Alf would stand behind the line. Paul Vautin came in and said: “he’s playing for Queensland! No one’s going to fucking hide! If he‘s got the maroon jersey on he‘s going to be ten foot tall and bullet proof!” He looked at Alf and said “you’re not going to hide are you?” And Alf was too scared to say anything else but “No!” Vautin said “Good! If anyone runs at you you’re going to knock them arse over head aren’t you?” “Yeah.” Vautin looked at Bennett and said “if he stands next to me he’s not going to miss a tackle all night so we’ll keep the same defensive pattern we’ve always had.” Alf didn’t exactly knock them arse over head but he didn’t miss too many tackles and he introduced his tackling technique – the trip – something I didn’t agree with but his performance booked the Maroon number seven for years.

Your try in 1989 is one of State of Origin’s most famous moments. Is that one of your greatest moments?
It was probably one of Queensland’s greatest moments. We’d been shot to bits. Langer had broken his leg. Mal Meninga had broken his arm. Vautin broke his arm or wrist. Bobby Lindner broke his leg and Michael Hancock did his shoulder I think. We’d lost blokes left right and centre. We were gone, shot to bits. That’s what the Blues were saying as well. We had to show more spirit than any other performance before that night and we wrapped up the series with a 16-12 win.

What are the other great memories for you?
I’d regard 1987 and 1989 as wonderful series. In 1987 we had to turn it around. We were shot ducks, one down in the series, and had to come back and win the second game in Sydney. Then we came home and managed to win the decider and all that was after losing the series in 1985 and 1986. We hadn’t seen what winning a football game was like for such a long time so the 1987 series, for us, was just magnificent. Then the 1989 series because of that great battle in Sydney when we had blokes busted up all over the place then we came home to Lang Park and beat them 36-16 to complete the whitewash.1991 was a great series too. Only two points in every game and it went right down to the wire.

In the 1991 series there was the famous moment when the hooter went in game one and you all celebrated but Bill Harrigan had awarded a penalty on halfway to the Blues. Were you worried Greg Alexander would kick it and force a draw?
In situations like that blokes can get an adrenaline rush to provide them with something extra but I didn’t think he would quite make it. I said to my guys “if the ball comes to you then intentionally knock it on. Just drop it. Just in case when you run with it someone rips it out and they score.” When he kicked the ball I caught it and I don’t know why but I just got this rush through my head thinking that if I’d dropped it then the referee might have penalised me for an intentional knock on. So I just ran forward and Chris Johns tackled me but I had the ball in the furthest arm and it’d have been like getting gold out of Fort Knox. He certainly wasn’t getting that ball off me.

What about the infamous beer cans incident?
I was a little bit dirty on the referee but much more so with the touchjudge because he was a filthy liar! We had the Queensland touch judge fifteen metres away who ran in and explained the situation. Phil Daly had come in with the knees on our hooker Greg Conescu and had started punching him. Conescu was on the ground with both arms wrapped around the ball. Then the NSW touch judge, who had come in from 65 metres away said, “no, no that’s not what happened. Conescu was on the ground and he threw the first punch.” I thought, “you fucking liar!” So the referee believes him and if you watch the tape you can lip read me repeating over and over “but he had the ball!” The Queensland touch judge backed me up but Greg went to the sin bin for five minutes. So we had a situation where a New South Wales referee listens to the New South Wales touch judge and blanks the Queensland touch judge. I then got sin binned for running in!

What about the aftermath to the whole incident?
The official said to me afterwards that I’d run in 40 metres and punched Daly. I said “40 metres?!” I just thought that this bloke was getting worse and worse! Anyway I thanked the ref because we got on with each other and turned to the touch judge and said, “and you…you’re just a filthy liar!” He dropped his head. And the Queensland touch judge just laughed.

I told the ref to look at on the tape and discover for himself who the liar was.
As for the cans…well that was what most of the criticism was about. The NSW press accused me of inciting a riot! I thought “well that’s good!” apparently I’d invited the crowd to throw cans at the referee and I copped it for about three or four days!

Who was the best NSW player you faced?
Brett Kenny was the best five-eighth. But the best NSW player was Peter Sterling. He was just a bloke who planned his game very well.

What was the Legends Origin game in 2001 like? You scored the winning try as well…
Yeah it was good to play with them again. The skill was there with the blokes but just at a slower pace! It was good to join up with everyone again.

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Brett Kenny (2)

Published in Thirteen in 2005

Brett Kenny’s State of Origin career

Brett Kenny is rightfully regarded as one of the sport’s greatest ever players. A Parramatta legend, he scored two tries in three consecutive Grand Finals as the Eels won the competition in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
Famous in England for his spell at Wigan, Kenny’s crowning moment over here saw him win the Lance Todd Trophy in 1985 with a majestic performance as Wigan beat Hull in the most famous of Challenge Cup Finals by 26-22.
Kenny tells Thirteen about his State of Origin career which ran for six series. His debut, as a substitute in game two of 1982 was in a period of Maroon dominance and Kenny’s first three series ended in defeat. However he was a key figure in halting this run of defeats as New South Wales triumphed for the first time in 1985 with Kenny in the stand off position that he is remembered for. This was followed up, in 1986, by Origin’s first whitewash as Kenny took the man of the match honours with a brilliant performance in game three at Lang Park.
His feats were duly recognised as he and Wally Lewis, his great rival, were featured on the Winfield State of Origin shield.

Brett, what are your memories of the early games?
I made my debut in 1982 and I was on the bench. That made it even more difficult. I came on after half time and Queensland had just scored. After a couple of sets I was blowing hard and I thought it was just nervous energy but as the game went on I started to realise it was because of the sheer pace of the game. Then just as I got used to it, the hooter went! But it put me in good stead for future years.

Was it easier for you playing Origin with so many Parramatta team mates there?
Yeah it always helps having guys you know there even off the field because I was a shy bloke and it helped me in getting to know the other guys.

What did you think about the theory that the Blues didn’t try as hard?
It didn’t bother me. It was just a media beat up but the Queensland press and maybe the supporters, not the players, probably felt a bit inferior. I know Wally was pissed off with it, and probably the other players, because we were trying just as hard.

It must have been flattering to be featured on the State of Origin shield…
Yeah it was. It was a great honour and something I never expected. It made me get noticed a bit more and it was very special.

What do you remember about the battles with Lewis?
They were good. I remember Wally playing a test in 1982 at the Sydney Cricket Ground and feeling sorry for him because the New South Wales press were bagging him for being the only Queenslander in the side. But it wasn’t his fault! He deserved his spot. Then I started playing against him and enjoyed the confrontation. We were good mates and with our faces on the trophy as you mention we had to do a lot of media work together to promote State of Origin and we became good mates. We had a lot of fun out there. There was sometimes joking when we tackled each other. It may surprise a lot of people that it wasn’t always as serious as you’d imagine.

What is your favourite State of Origin memory?
Probably 1985. The second game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I scored late on and it helped seal the game and the series. It was the one when Steve Mortimer sank to his knees in joy. It looked like he was praying!

Was it a little bit difficult at first to adapt to playing outside Mortimer when you’d played alongside Peter Sterling all your career?
Yeah I guess it was. He was a completely different half back to Sterling but he was a great player and he played for Australia. He was very quick and elusive but it didn’t take long to get used to him and it wasn’t hard. He was a very passionate man. He’d get up and talk to us on the bus on the way to the ground to gee everyone up. He’d have tears running out of his eyes and I’d have a bit of a chuckle. He’d have a shot at me for that with him trying to be serious! But that was just me and he appreciated my way of preparing for a game and we got on well. Great bloke, Turvey.

Talking of being on the bus, what about the infamous drives past the Caxton Hotel in Queensland?
Oh mate it was great! They’ve gone back to doing that because they stopped it and that was unfortunate because it’s something the New South Wales players need to experience. At first, it’s very daunting but once you’ve experienced it you get used to it and you look forward to it. There’s Queenslanders on the street throwing beer cans at the bus and carrying on! You knew then you were there for a State of Origin game. It was just part of State of Origin folklore though and you just wanted to experience it. It’s good they’ve gone back to doing it.

Did they stop doing it to protect the players?
I wasn’t sure if it was that or because games weren’t at Lang Park for a while.

What do you think is the best State of Origin try?
From all time, then Billy Slater’s last year when he kicked over the top for himself. From my playing days then a Michael O’Connor try from game three in 1986 to complete a whitewash. Mark Murray kicked over the top, he got hit as he regathered and lost the ball. Garry Jack picked it up and offloaded. It went through Sterlo and me to O’Connor who ran it in from 50 metres.

Moving away from Origin…do you watch the 1985 Challenge Cup final much?
Yeah I’ve got a tape of it. I don’t watch it that often but every now and again I do. I’ve got great memories of playing at Wembley Stadium. I’d watch the F A Cup final on television and to get to play there was a dream come true.

You’re at Penrith Panthers now aren’t you? Isn’t Nigel Wright out there at the club as well? He was a great player but so unlucky with injuries…
Yeah I’m at the Panthers coaching the Jersey Flegg side and Nigel’s my assistant coach. I never saw him play but people have said how good he was.

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Adrian Lam

Former Queensland captain Adrian Lam spoke to me in 2005 about his State of Origin career for Thirteen

Adrian, your selection for Queensland is still regarded a controversy. What were your opinions?
Yeah it was always thought of like that but it was never an issue to me. I grew up in Papua New Guinea until the age of six then moved to Australia. I played all my junior football there right through to under nineteens then onto senior football in Brisbane. When I was selected not too many people had a problem with it but Ray Warren always brings it up.

Tell us about 1995 when, with Super League players ruled out, Queensland weren’t expected to win a game.
I remember being at home when I was picked and I was nervous at first. I remember thinking “holy shit I’m gonna be playing State of Origin”. Then there was the first camp and the spirit was amazing. I don’t think we could have done it with any other coach than Paul Vautin. He was the right guy at the right time. The way he went about it was fantastic, getting us all together and concentrating more on the bonding and the team spirit than anything else.

Jason Smith was quoted as saying that as soon as he saw the other players in camp he knew Queensland would win. Did you think that too?
Yeah I was the same. I remember the hotel…the Travelogde in Brisbane. A whole floor is for the Origin team. In one room you get your kit, in the next you get your sponsors’ gear and in the next you get all your formal wear and in the next you get paid for the week. Then there was a meeting with Vautin and Chris Close who told us all about how Origin came about and how importanty it was to beat New South Wales. He had tears in his eyes and from then on I knew it would be something special.

What about the infamous game-two fight in 1995?
That was a funny story. It was down in Melbourne and the promotion was that it was a war! Tommy Raudonikis was interviewed and asked about the well known “Queenslander!” cry. Raudonikos said that whichever Maroons player shouted it would get knocked out!. Fatty found out about this and asked us all who would be shouting it. All the guys volunteered! Fatty told us if anything started that we should all get in so it was literally planned. It started in a scrum with Sedaris in the middle of it and after about two minutes of everyone going beserk the referee finally got control and I remember literally shaking with adrenaline!

What’s your favourite Origin moment? Is it the 1995 series or lifting the shield as captain in 1999?
Probably the first series. That was spectacular. I didn’t quite realise how big it was at first but I soon did. Queenslanders were handing in their tickets for the third game at Brisbane because they thought we would lose in Sydney and Melbourne and it would be all over. By the time we got to Brisbane we were two nil up and I’ve never been so confident about a game. I remember the big party on the Gold Coast when we won it. They were the best times.

What about your worst Origin moment?
The first game in 2000 in Sydney. I’d scored two tries and we were winning with ten minutes left but Harrigan missed those knock ons and the Blues went the length of the pitch. Tallis blew up with him and got sent off. I was with them saying “don’t send him off, he’s sorry, he’s sorry! He’s just frustrated with some of the decisions you’ve made.” But he said “no, he can’t talk to me like that. He’s off!”

Who are the best Origin players you played with and against?
Probably Jason Smith and Brad Fittler but it’s a really tough question to answer.

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