Almanac Rugby League: Reflections of a Rugby League Internationalist…..

 

As the Rugby League Representative Weekend is upon us I thought it an opportune time to launch my Footy Almanac scribblings with a reminisce through time to paint a picture of my Rugby League passion.

 

My International Rugby League love affair began at a very young age (8-9) in the early 70’s when, as a convent school kid, our footy coach somehow got a hold of movie reels of recent Test matches between Australia and Great Britain. Watching those games (in colour !) had me mesmerised. Then in 1974 I was given the book Ampol Sporting Records as a Christmas gift. My knowledge of the world of International Rugby League results for the Kangaroos expanded to learn about the Kiwis and French and Welsh. During the 70’s I also got to see my hometown representative team – the Toowoomba Clydesdales – play against the Poms and French which only fuelled my fascination. Fast forward to 1982 and current Rugby League statistical guru and author David Middleton has his first RL book come out ( and he was only a school kid at the time !) and in there was the mention of Australian games against South Africa ! I had never heard of these before ( I don’t believe they were in the Ampol book !) and so my interest was piqued again. Rugby League Week would have the odd snippet of information to keep the momentum going, mostly about the game trying to get started in the USA by local sports entrepreneur Mike Mayer. Ironically Toowoomba’s Athletic Oval had a great picture of the USARL 1954 Touring team in its bar under the grandstand that intrigued an eighteen-year-old me.

 

Early 90s and I discovered the English Rugby League magazine Open Rugby that opened up a whole new level of interest as their coverage of International upstarts was lightyears ahead of RLW. Those 90s magazines were eagerly devoured each month as I poured over the pages reading about locations like Russia, Moldovia, Morocco, South Africa, Fiji and the USA . Scottish and Irish news also. I also was able to follow the exploits of the globe-travelling and code-fostering British Amateur Rugby League team through this same magazine.  The World Sevens Tournaments allowed us to see some of these new frontiers come to Australian shores and bring a huge smile to the faces of fans like myself. I recall attending the Friday night games of one early 90s tournament played at Brisbane’s Lang Park and cheering madly for Japan!  South Africa and Fiji were a crowd favourites in Sydney.

 

After sourcing an address from the Australian Rugby League, I began corresponding (by pen and paper) with a Widnes lad living in South Africa and pushing the Rugby League barrow along with others. Eventually my curiosity got to me and in 1994 I travelled to South Africa to meet with him and see the game’s progress for myself. What an experience! Around the same time I caught a bus here in Brisbane and the bloke beside me was wearing a Scotland RL jersey! After some initial hesitation we got chatting…and once he worked out I knew what I was talking about we talked about the far flung frontiers of Rugby League all the way home and then exchanged phone numbers. Twenty odd years later we are still catching up and talking International Rugby League.

 

The 1995 Rugby League World Cup with its sidekick the Emerging Nations World Cup threw my interest into overdrive as new nations Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa and South Africa featured in the main event. Great Britain was split back to England, Wales and Scotland with the English and Welsh in the main comp. The Scots were in the Emerging Nations along with their Irish counterparts, the latter being runners-up to the Cook Islands in the ENWC final.

 

Come the arrival of internet forums…..and I discovered their were others out there who shared my interest!

 

Since then I have had the opportunity to travel to the 2013 World Cup in the UK and also take in the game being played in Philadelphia, USA. New adventures are around the corner with the European U/19s tournament beckoning. Serbia playing host to Russia in front of a hometown crowd in downtown Belgrade will have the likes of Clive Churchill and Changa Langlands smiling down with admiration for the code’s progress.

 

Along the way I have met others who are directly involved with the growth of the game in Hong Kong, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Phillipines and my great hope for the future – South and Central America. (Actually met the force behind these guys whilst in England in 2013 …another public transport meet. This time on a train. Also still regularly in touch and supportive of the work he and his passionate colleagues are doing in Latin America.

 

The code’s self-appointed showpiece – State of Origin – will no doubt have much more publicity than all of this weekend’s International Rugby League games will muster together. Sunday morning (Australian time) a historic game between England and New Zealand in the USA will be pushed to the bench as media outlets ramp up for that night’s Origin game. The Pacific Tests will be in a similar boat and the almost unheard of South Africa v Malta game in Sydney will be missed completely. However, I for one hope the tide turns and come the not too distant future a game like next week’s Rugby League International – Ireland v Hungary in Budapest – will register on the radar of Rugby League writers here in Australia and the code will be making its presence felt on the International sports stage.

 

Go the PNG Kumuls and South African Rhinos !

 

Click here to see all the details about International Rugby League.

 

About

A Rugby League enthusiast with a penchant for all things International and the grassroots regional representative scene, Damian Roache has finally started to write those stories he's been meaning to write for many a year....and enjoying the experience immensely !

Comments

  1. Damian, welcome to our growing band of rugby league followers at the Almanac. I got interested in the game as a country kid in south-east Queensland in the 50s when international games were the pinnacle of the game and we listened to broadcasts of Tests on ‘the wireless’ on Saturday afternoons. Other writers, such as Greg Mallory, have written about the demise of the international scene to the point where it is about third tier at best after State of Origin and the ARL. All too sad. But let’s enjoy this weekend’s banquet while we can. Maybe you can keep the rest of us up to date with the matches you’ve mentioned in the coming weeks (and months and years…). QUEENSLANDER!!!

  2. Matthew O'hanlon says:

    Welcome aboard Damian- one of my prized artefacts is an Irish rugby league shirt ( which doesn’t fit me) so I am looking forward to the wolfhounds clash in Budapest! Queensland tonight and say hello to your brother- the crafty former all whites and Brisbane brothers half back Laurie for me.

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