Neville ‘Rocky’ Roberts: Gun

Neville Roberts’ record in the game and resume re. above is as good as anyone. Yes, Rocky was a gun but back to the beginning.

 

Neville went to Henley High School. Even back then (I was 10) I can remember the hype about this superstar junior. West Torrens played Geelong in a trial game in ’73 in his debut and Neville played on Ian Nankervis and casually won the best on ground award – a star was born. To Richmond’s credit they had noticed Neville far earlier, at a state Under 15s schoolboys carnival. They kept a very close eye on Neville and signed him on a Form Four form as soon as he was old enough (this was the method back then which meant the player was tied to that club if they moved to the VFL for three years).

 

Neville showed more than promise during two seasons for the Eagles and, through the persuasion of the late Alan Schwab, moved to Richmond for the 1975 season, only just turning 20. That was not the norm back then, unlike nowadays, guys generally got a solid grounding and moved to the VFL when older. Kernahan, Bradley, Naley and Motley are classic examples. Neville quickly established himself at Punt Road in ’75. Remembering he had gone to a club that had won back to back flags he played in 17 games kicking 30 goals, alternating in a variety of roles and positions.

 

Neville during the ’75 season commuted living in SA, training with West Torrens on a Tuesday, then generally flying over to Melbourne on a Thursday training and then playing on the Saturday while at Teachers College in ’75. During the finals West Torrens’ season had finished so Neville trained with Port Adelaide on the Tuesday. He had a friendship with John Cahill and formed friendships with a number of Port players (thank goodness Neil Balme arrived at the Parade in ’80 – Neville and Neil had been best mates at Richmond and it was mainly through Neil that Neville ended up a Redleg and not a despised Magpie).

 

 

In 1976 Neville was chosen to play for Victoria in a state game versus Western Australia. This was when two players from each side were chosen. Now just think, Neville was picked while champions such as Kevin Bartlett, Kevin Sheedy, Bryan Wood, Royce Hart etc. were left out; an incredible achievement in itself. His club teammate Francis Bourke was the Victorian Captain. Neville kicked six goals playing mainly centre and to this day most in the footy world are bemused how he didn’t win the BOG trophy.

 

Neville moved to Victoria in ’76 and transferred his teaching studies to Footscray Institute but got distracted by the things which young men are attracted to (didn’t drink before he went to Richmond – Balmey fixed that) Neville didn’t quite manage to finish his teaching studies and says the youngsters who he did teach when sent out to schools for experience should finish their psychological treatment soon.

 

Neville had a very good season in ’77, spending more time on the ball averaging 17 touches kicking 31 goals and establishing himself as a very good VFL footballer. Neville’s last VFL game was the 1977 first semi final. Neville admits leaving Richmond at the age of 23 is his biggest football regret and back then not having a manager or footy mentors it was the ‘be tough and suck it up era’. He was poorly advised in returning to SA. He loved his time at the Tigers and, as were the majority of Richmond players, a huge admirer of Tom Hafey.

 

Neville upon returning to SA intended to return to studies; c Marsh b Lillee no score in that regard and instead went in to business with David Hookes opening up Lifestyle Leisure Fitness Centre (highlight was Michael Aish was given employment there and worked his backside off on the weights trying to put on weight. The big night arrived his weigh in, he stepped on the scales and low and behold he had lost weight. The dummy landed at Gawler! Aishy begrudgingly said to me re. talking about Neville for this article ‘geez you have got a good memory’).

 

Neville intended to return to Richmond but alas injuries and business put paid to that. Neville played four years for West Torrens upon returning to SA including captaining the club in 1980-81. It was during this time when West Torrens were struggling that Neville returned from a broken cheekbone wearing a helmet.

 

 

The brilliant wordsmith Mike Coward wrote on the Advertiser that Roberts comeback from injury early was of Rocky Balboa style. The Rocky movies were huge at the time so the Rocky nickname, which has well and truly stuck to this day, was born.

 

West Torrens had made the bizarre decision to sack Neil Kerley, replaced by Lindsay Head. Head and Roberts clashed resulting in Neville Roberts making the huge decision to quit while being club captain. Frustrated quite rightly at West Torrens’ lack of professionalism and desperate to have a chance to play in a flag he arrived at the Parade (thank goodness and leave it legal wise at that re. Neville quitting West Torrens to say I am massively in Neville’s corner is a understatement). Neville was a MASSIVE recruit for Norwood, kicking 83 goals in 1982 and was a major part of the Redlegs winning the flag. Who can forget the immortal words of Peter Marker re. Neville has hugged a few things in his life but nothing as beautiful as the Thomas Seymour Hill trophy.

 

 

Above is the link for the highlights of the big game at Unley when Rocky and Rick Davies had both been in doubt during the week. The Jumbo Prince pulled out with the flu while Rocky kicked a casual 10. For Adelaide University Football Club readers Skittle Parker ended up on Rocky and as much as I have stirred Skittle up over the years he did a far better job on Rocky than Peter Motley did. And, after all Skittle, I am eternally grateful for being the star ring in for my 100th.

 

In ’83 Norwood played in the Sterling Cup and were opposed to Footscray at Waverley. Geoff Wilson and I caught the bus over there. The celebrations after the win were huge and let’s say players drank a bit more than back then and were a tad more raucous and playful. It was a educational evening to say the least and thanks for paying for our room, Rocky! We finished third in ’83 despite Rocky kicking 111 goals and setting the record for most number of goals in a year for the ‘legs.

 

We then looked in trouble half way thru ’84. Greg Thomas coming off the pine and four goals in the last quarter helped get us out of jail at Thebarton. The Redlegs got on a roll and finished the minor round in fifth place but in good form. We disposed of South, Centrals and Glenelg to enter the Grand final against our arch rivals Port Adelaide. In a magnificent game Norwood became the HISTORY MAKERS: the first club to win the flag from fifth place. Rocky Roberts kicked 6 goals performing, yet again, in the crunch.

 

 

Neville was a dominant forward again in ’84 with 98 goals. He captained the club in ’85 and ’86, also captaining SA in ’84 and ’85 and even helping the club out in ’86 by coaching the reserves when Glen Rosser was forced to resign due to work, coaching the side to a Premiership against Woodville. Unfortunately injuries caught up with Rocky late in his career and he was forced to retire early in the ’87 season. He was the ultimate professional on the training track; Rocky and Aishy used to challenge each other after training, booting the crap out of the footy a few yards apart at each other. First player to drop the footy bought lunch. I was often spellbound at how good these two champions were and it helped explain how Neville was as good as anyone in the history of the game at marking the ball at full stretch out in front of the body.

 

Neville coached Norwood in 2000 and 2001 and with a loss of the elimination final in 2001, I walked into the Redlegs club that night and found in my opinion that Neville was ostracised. Were the results disappointing? Yes. Had we been decimated by injuries in 2001? Yes. I feel that Neville could have been supported more – alas it was not to be. Rocky Roberts turned out to be a inspired recruit and a vital part of Norwood Football Club history. Thank you for your support and friendship over the years – truly red and blue blooded!

Which Norwood super star calls Neville Wocky?

 

What is your favourite Neville Roberts memory?

 

Love you to share the article and comment.

 

(The link at the top includes the Rocky Roberts song by Jackie Love at the ’83 Magarey at the start of the tape. Aishy have they found the missing 20 vote slips yet?)

 

Read more of Rulebook’s stories and see his video rants HERE. There’s a lot of Norwood-love in them.

Comments

  1. Mark Ducker says:

    RB – Neville was a fantastic player, great mentor and full of footy knowledge / footy smarts / footy on ground “cheats” or where to go / when to go / clever short-cuts / umpires etc. He passed on the baton to me unselfishly for many hours even after his retirement, with all the bells and whistles to give me the best possible chance to be successful. Forever grateful to Nev- yes he had an incredible self-belief,that all the great players have, which can come across to some in the non-footy world unfavourably. When I think of Neville Roberts I smile- I think of a champion player of the highest order and a generous older player eager to pass on his knowledge to the next generation willing to listen and learn as I was. A problem as we all know currently in today’s society in all facets of life, and even some of the footballers soon after me thinking they know it all and didn’t wish to listen or learn from the generation (1/2 generation) above them – very sad! We’ve all seen it in the workforce too. Nev in my world / my experiences was sheer fantastic.

  2. Peter Argent says:

    Just another Norwood player from a rival club – pretty common theme
    Maybe worth a yarn about the Redlegs nurtured at other club
    CP

  3. Great player gave us some great memories at the Parade. He should have continued as Norwood coach

  4. I was lucky enough to accidentally take some customers to a causal Xmas lunch at the London Tavern in Richmond. We were sitting inside as the beer garden was full, it turned out to be amazing as I first noticed Tom Hafey and then slowly noticed a bunch of Richmond greats all in a room close to us.
    Neville was there and at the time I remember thinking They must have great respect for him as he wasn’t there long compared to others but fitted right in. I then found out it was a regular thing Tom did for the players he coached, same time at the London Tavern, he stood up on the table gave a great speech which I’m sure was similar every year, but he had everyone of those Richmond past player attention and admiration. Sadly it was the the last one, Well written book

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I was at the “Rocky” game (Mothers Day 1978) – bastard :)

  6. Brilliant player, so quick to read the ball off the boot. Would love to have a coffee and a chat with “Rocky” and get his tboughts on why goalkicking has nlt improved but other areas of the game have.
    Fond memories of Roberts punching the air in that famous headgear while at West Torrens.

  7. I can only vaguely remember his brilliant skills in action for Norwood and SA in the mid 1980’s. Was a pretty good commentator too and overall is a great stalwart of the game. Great article Rulebook.

  8. I was lucky enough to see all Neville Roberts’ early years at West Torrens. Brave and skilful. Wonderful long kick for goal – better sharpshooter than Woodcock. His technique was like Jason Dunstall.
    He was the “hope of the hopeless” at Torrens. I regard him with the same affection as Brian Lake at the Bulldogs. How Karl Stefanovic’s ex speaks of him.

  9. Jill Tathra says:

    He was a great player but I hated that he went to Norwood. In those days players mostly stayed true to the one club so was also a shock when he left us.

    Good write up mate as usual but brings back sad memories!

  10. Neville is confident guy great footballer interesting businessman …ive had lots of fun times over the years with Nev He. worked for Howie sangster running Lion group Hotels / bought my beach house At Boomer beach then i purchased it back off him in 90’s ha ha .. running lifestyle gym , worked out with him at next generation gym many times memorial drive … He coached Redlegs for a season so man of many talents … I witnessed Roberts kicking 9 goals off the half forward flank on norwood oval one afternoon / he gave me his VFL lace up Richmond jumper i have in My Norwood memorabilia with J.Wynne #28 Stazinowsky # 29. / Poulter #2 etc. Pinches # 18 ( all framed ) Neville is In Norwood team of the Century a great feat /. Good film clips Malcome love the vision 83 magary song ….jackie love singer your words a really accurate story on the Great Neville Roberts ….well done. Roger Ocean front villa Bali

  11. Top job Malcolm……..In 55 years of watching footy I have not seen anybody who could drop off a defender to take a mark on his own like Rocky could, true football genius and the best kick for goal I’ve seen.

  12. Bill Drodge says:

    Good work (again) Malcolm.

    There may be many Neville Roberts highlights, but the one that I’ll never forget is the last 1/4 goal in the ’84 GF. He read the play and the flight of the ball so much better than Williams. 6 goals in a GF, including the match sealer!!

  13. Paul Minogue says:

    Glenelg supporter but an opposition player I liked/admired (even, grudgingly at times when playing against the Bays). Remember the impact when he first started, the surprise when he moved back from Richmond, and the drama when he moved to Norwood. Later in his career I would say he was one of the most efficient players I have ever seen. Effort and disposals weren’t wasted.

    Two of my abiding memories are: he played for quite a long time at Torrens with both thumbs strapped due to injury; and, one of the most cunning pieces of play I have ever seen, when he intentionally handballed into the lower leg of an opponent, the ball went out on the full, and Roberts went back with a big smile on his face to take the free kick.

  14. Ben Larsen-Smith says:

    Really interesting story about a man who had lots of natural talent and also worked hard on the park, thanks for a great read Rulebook!

  15. Great article Malcolm this silk smooth legend was a pleasure to watch

  16. Michael Aish says:

    Neville was a great get for the Norwood Football Club. Best player that i have seen that can take a mark on a lead with arms fully extended. Also near impossible to get around him if he had you behind him on a one on one as he would hem you in with his arms and then at the right time move forward to take the mark . Great reader of the ball and super accurate with the kick. Not a bad shot on goal as well. He will tell you that he handed off his fair share but he has had too many anesthesia so gets a bit mixed up. In fact it was those up the field that made it very simple for him(mark and kick the goal how hard can that really be). Being little more serious i have been lucky to play many games on and off the field with Neville and enjoyed every one of them.

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Ducks I could not agree more superb comment.Peter admit I am bemused and confused by your thoughts.Ron agree totally.Coke those,Tom Hafey lunches are legendary yes v sad that was the last one genuine compassion for his players.Swish yes I remember that day little did I no that he would upgrade to the parade.Lachy yes goal kicking not improving is a huge bewildering part of the game and yes a serious inditement on the game yep remember the fist punches and that head gear fondly.Thanks Paul yes a fantastic footballer and personality of the game.PB yes he was hard and skilful and yes carried the eagles for quite a while interesting your last few words.Jill totally understand that you were sad to lose him while we were rapt to pick him up.RHP interesting post as always great memories thank you.GB his footy smarts as a forward we’re similar to Wayne Carey a genuine superstar.Bill we have the same favorite,Rocky playing memory.Paul yes his disposal skills were brilliant and as I have said brilliant footy smarts thank you.Thanks Ben and Raj.Aishy as I have said the competition you two had and the training drills you did which were so competitive played a part in the success you both enjoyed couldn’t agree more re his ability to read the play and the drop zone was second to done and I reckon I enjoyed some of the games off the field as much as the skills on the field thanks folks

  18. John Fidge says:

    i loved rocky as a kid cause i barracked for richmond , then when i came to glenelg he came to my place to interview me , he was always kind to me as a commentator , great guy

  19. Michael Rehn says:

    A lot of memories about Neville Roberts , quite rightly, talk about his uncanny ability as a goalkicker and forward line marshall. Not only good, he was great and I was lucky enough to see him in our red and blue jumper, and hold aloft two Premiership Cups.
    As an oldie though I do have another memory of Neville Roberts, acting as a team runner for a Kerley coached West Torrens, where he was able to showcase the defensive side of his game in a game against Norwood at the Parade during the Bob Hammond era..
    A loose ball headed out towards the Bauldersone stand pocket with rugged utility David Armour about to run on to it. Armour, a beautiful kick, was an absolute certainty to gather and goal, but a deft move by the Torrens runner thwarted that movement completely
    I distinctly recall Bob Hammond talking about Torren’s use of a loose man in the backlines on the next day’s footy show.
    Neville Roberts, a Redleg great !!!

  20. Nice work Mal. Neville was a dead eye in from of goals

  21. You could write a book on Neville ‘s life story the golf course venture, bedebize , matresses , his many great matches where Roberts featured and kicked winning goals in the 80’s A Redlegs Great rulebook well written,

  22. Steve Whelan says:

    Great article, Rulebook. My favorite Rocky memory is in the ’84 grand final when he received the ball from Payne next to the goalpost and slammed it in to put us 10 points up.

  23. Very good as always, Rulebook. That ’83 Magarey intro is ’80s TV gold. Anyone who kicks 6 against Port in a Grand Final is ok by me. Two of my more favourite stories of Rocky – one day getting his nose broken at Alberton and being informed in no uncertain terms by the fans behind the goals that they hoped he bled to death. And arriving at the Perth when playing for Victoria the locals greeted the team with a near riot., pelting the team bus How things change….

  24. Great article! Sounds like he was a great player and leader

  25. Thank you, RB.
    Another very interesting South Australian history lesson for me.

  26. Garry Davis says:

    Another excellent read Book. Can’t disagree with any of it.

  27. Mark munday says:

    Great read. Macintosh to Aish Aish to Roberts Roberts 40 meters out. GOALS..

  28. Grenville Dietrich says:

    When I was at Richmond there was Neville Roberts, Peter Laughlin, Stephen Mount, Craig Balme and myself ALL born on the 5th of March. Would have to be a record I would think….lol

  29. Jeff Milton says:

    Another great article. He was exceptional at both West Torrens and Norwood. When the 1984 GF was on the line late in the last quarter and Norwood was clinging to the lead (cant believe it was over 30 years ago) there were 3 moments of champions rising above the rest when it counted most, Aish’s intercept and run with the ball, Thomas’s mark running at full pace with the flight of the ball and Robert’s goal.

  30. russell gehling says:

    wow , i have great memories of the great man , kept him to 2 goals in my 6th sanfl game and after game said “well played young fella”

  31. Cameron Glenn says:

    A good insight into the past before my time. He got to be a part of some great moments and moved around a bit too including some great years at the Parade. Lucky to be a part of the history making 1984 SANFL Premiership, something never happened again by coming from 5th to win a flag. Great to see see some SANFL history with great players of times gone by. :)

  32. Dwayne Fuller says:

    Legend one of the great recruits for Norwood wanted to play in Premierships and achieved that twice ? ? Rocky was a very smart footballer a beautiful kick and all round top bloke

  33. Mark Strange says:

    Neville was one of the best players produced in SA.Even before he played for Norwood with West Torrens I think I remember him as a brilliant player. Then when we were lucky enough to snare him he was so skillful so courageous a magical mark and a dead eye kick for goal. Loved watching him on training nights at the Parade real character too. Thanks for the memories Rocky??

  34. Martin Rumsby says:

    Great article Rulebook. Rocky certainly has a special place in the hearts of many Norwood players and supporters as evidenced by the previous comments. I remember driving down from Gladstone to see Norwood play Centrals at Elizabeth in 1983. I was fortunate to not only see Norwood have a great win, but also to see Neville Roberts kick his 100th goal for the season. His six goals in the 1984 GF also rank high in my favourite memories.

  35. Gee, Norwood did well out of Richmond – Balme x2, Roberts, Peter Laughlin all played on ’84 flag. Smart man Wally Miller

  36. Neville Roberts says:

    Thanks Rulebook, you have represented the facts very accurately. It is rare to have an article written that is so comprehensive as well, reminding me of many events I had forgotten, like the 1983 Margaret Medal scene.
    I hope your readers don’t thing me ungracious when I said I regretted the move back to Adelaide, I think it is more the curiosity of what might have been, but as the old saying goes “be careful what you wish for” and as we all know the sliding doors of life can be cruel. I also am blessed to have a beautiful wife and family and very happy to have had the footy career I did, there are so many treasured football memories (many provided by the hulk Michael Aish).
    It is humbling to read your followers comments, I cannot the time I had so many lovely compliments and I Thank you all so much for them and you support past and present and for reviving so many great memories
    Cheers

  37. Geoff Wilson says:

    Well Malcolm, I think you have outdone yourself here. You have done a wonderful job in researching the journey and career of a magnificent footballer. Neville Roberts what a player, he was certainly a hugh favourite in the Wilson household, especially once he became a Redleg and another famous Norwood number 9. I think Neville was as good for Norwood as Norwood was for him. I’m pretty sure Wynney said to him that you will only have to worry about your roll here and not every roll as was the case at West Torrens and what a roll it was. Neville played some of the best football you could ever wish to see over those five and bit seasons. I know he used to get very excited with the likes of Gallagher, Turbull, Aish, Thomas and Macintosh delivering the ball to him lace out. There were some brilliant stand out games, two that come to mind were the 84 GF and the 84 State Game against Victoria where Neville took one Bruce Doull apart, but there are many, many more. I must thank Neville again for putting us up in the old Southern Cross I think it was after that great win against Footscray in the Sterling Cup. What a night that was, I will have to invite Neville and a few of the boys into The Coopers Box next season to show our appreciation. All in all a great peace Malcolm and a wonderful career Neville.

  38. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    John Rocky was a good commentator as well and just a genuine bloke he enjoyed seeing others succeed.
    Michael Neville re footy smarts as good as any one who has ever played the game.Thankd Sam and Roger.Steve likewise.Thanks Dave yep love that Magarey opening if not the result bizarre that M Aish didn’t bolt in.Thanks Campbell,Smokie and Garry.Mark music to every true redleg.Grenville that is amazing coincidence and yes surely a record.Thanks Milts the 84 gf is one of the great games in footy history with some incredible individual redleg moments one for the ages.Russell Rocky always gave deserved praise and quite rightly that is a footy memory you should regard v v highly.thanks,Cameron.
    Dwayne couldn’t agree more.Mark thank you agree totally with every letter loved the training nights also.
    Martin yes remember that day at the ponderosa fondly and yep he was incredible in 84 gf.LW v good point thank you folks

  39. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Neville thank you re being comprehensive yes took me a while to do the research glad it jogged a few memories the 83 Magarey clip is a classic not unbracious at all to wonder what might have been wrapped you ended up at the parade thank you for your friendship over the years ( taking training at Ad Uni as well) and our footy and life chats over a 35 year period as Geoff said above we appreciated in Melbourne as well glad I reminded you re the weigh in of the Incredible,hulk night in a footy sense always appreciated the uncanny sense you and Michael had on the field it was very brother like also very funny people pointing out the likeness re John Clease and your good self thanks Rocky

  40. Willow Wilson says:

    Nice work again Book, a great character of the game.
    My memories are of a very smart footballer, read the play wonderfully, very good one on one, clever around goals.
    Will never forget his efforts in the 84 GF.

  41. Luke Reynolds says:

    Superbly written Malcolm. Really enjoyed it.
    Big part of why I like reading your Norwood profiles is because they are from what seems like a golden era in SANFL footy. A big competition in it’s own right.
    Rocky sounds like he was a superstar player.

  42. Craig Balme says:

    A really enjoyable read!….. it was great to see the ball in Nevilles hands….it was a fair bet it was a goal in the making, and the ball would soon be back to the centre square for a bouncedown ….such was his accuracy….

    Neville had a very professional approach to preparing himself for a game, particularly in his later seasons when he had to play while his body was giving out on him. I don’t think many people really appreciated how much courage it took for him to get up for each game, particularly with the weight of expectation that was on him….

    It was a pleasure to be in the same team as Neville and to see his skills up close….

  43. Chris Kendall says:

    Brilliant read, Malcolm. So many memories flood back for me just like yesterday after reading this. Having been red and blue blooded since being taken to the 75 GF as a 2 year old by mum and my grandfather- the man who rebelled against his Torrens supporting family to introduce me to Norwood – this is a great trip down memory lane. Lust count of how many times I saw Rocky close up when going to games as a kid and marveling at how he kept defying arthritic knees and a bad back to mesmerise opposition defenders.

  44. I remember Neville Roberts (while a footy star) being invited as a guest speaker by my high school (Brighton High School) in the mid-1970s and he gave a talk to the students in my year about the importance of motivation, education and staying focused to do well in our future careers and life in general. A wonderful player and generous and inspirational person off the field as well.

  45. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Willow Rockys footy smarts were elite let’s remember that he took,Bruce Doull to the cleaners in that infamous state game one of the very few to manage to do that ever again he was brilliant in the 84 gf.
    Thanks Luke it was a golden era and Rocky was indeed a superstar.Craig a vital point re Roberts professionalism and ability to prepare and get on the ground and perform carrying significant injuries was a credit to himself a true leader which you saw and appreciated from up close thank you.Chris thank you and your grandfather sounds like he was a fantastic intelligent man and yes as Craig Balme commented,Neville’s ability to carry injuries and perform was sensational ( Greg Turbill I am in awe of in that regard) Alan thank you and yes that sort of thing,Neville along with some other superstars of the game,Barrie Robran,Russel Ebert and Michael Aish are others which come immediately to mind were fantastic and very giving to charity as well thanks folks

  46. Darren Adams says:

    In 1984 my 7 year old brother wrote Rocky Roberts a letter with every other letter in red pencil and blue pencil, in which he said Rocky was his favourite player and that he (my brother Scott) was nicknamed “Pebbles” because he was a “mini Rocky”. A week or so later Scott got a lovely personal reply that had pride of place on our fridge for ages. I wasn’t a Norwood supporter, but remember thinking that was pretty cool that Rocky took the time to send that.

  47. Good story Book. I was ‘pleased’ to see the photo of Rocky V Centrals @ Thebarton. Was there to see that game. My God, did we boo him for wearing the helmet!

  48. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Darren I love hearing stories like yours I wish the media would give far more promotion to the many many good things players do like replying to letters and helping out re charity.Rabs I remember that Game well and the helmet,Rocky wore it certainly seemed to inspire the eagles on the day thank you

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