Almanac Rugby League: It’s all there in black and white

Artwork by John Campbell


Footy tragics, by definition, are sentimentalists. Why else would we put ourselves through the agonies of hope and anxiety, triumph and disaster?


Our obsession manifests itself in many ways. In my case, I collect Big League programs. One of those gathering dust in a corner of my study is from Round 16, 2006 when the Warriors gave the Bunnies a 66-0 flogging, the worst loss in the proud history of the Cardinal and Myrtle. Occasionally I’ve exercised a macabre curiosity by re-visiting that day just to see who was responsible but, otherwise, it’s my most uncherished historical document.


My programs were generally purchased for Souths games but there are a few exceptions. One is dated September 30th1986 (Vol 67, No. 31). Grand Final day. Parramatta v Canterbury-Bankstown. On the cover are the jerseys of the respective captains, Ray Price (#8 – it must have been very close to the last year before we adopted the Pommie practice of numbering the lock 13) and Steve Mortimer (#7). It cost $2.





In the foreground is what was then known as the Winfield Cup, that rather grotesque statue of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons having a cuddle. The Rothmans Medalist for 1986 was Manly’s hooker, Mal Cochrane, while the Coca Cola Coach of the Year award went to the Rabbitohs’ George Piggins. Full page ads for Coke, ciggies and beer (Tooheys New) bankrolled the publication.


It was the first Grand Final at which the Clive Churchill Medal was presented to the best player (Peter Sterling). I remember sitting in the grandstand that had been named after Churchill at the Randwick end of the Sydney Cricket Ground. What I don’t remember, but am delighted to recall as I flick through the pages, is the glittering array of media celebs who were trotted out for the event – Cameron Daddo (to introduce the NSW Baton Twirlers), the late Darryl Cotton (thankfully not in his pink Zoot suit), Kerri Anne Kennerley (yes, she was around even then), Greg Evans and, performing at 10.30 a.m. when most of us were just sinking our first beers at the Olympic Hotel in Moore Park Road, a ‘rock band’, the Cockroaches. (Who would have thunk it, that ‘the greatest game of all’ would set The Wiggles on their road to world domination?) Half-time in First Grade featured the finish of the Army Around Australia marathon with runners being welcomed by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Mr R. J. L. Hawke … You can’t have too much of a good thing, can you?


Parra’s coach was John Monie, an unassuming bloke who inherited the side after the legendary Jack Gibson led the Eels and their long-suffering fans to the long-awaited promised land of premiership glory in 1981. In charge of the Bulldogs was the pragmatic Warren Ryan.


I’m studying the line-ups now. The upper case names, listed vertically, are in the same font as they were in my boyhood and as they still are today.


Minor premiers Parramatta boasted a star-studded line-up that included Michael ‘the Crow’ Cronin, Steve ‘the Zip-Zip Man’ Ella, Eric ‘the Guru’ Grothe, Brett ‘Bert’ Kenny, Peter ‘Sterlo’ Sterling and Ray ‘Mr Perpetual Motion’ Price. The two props were Terry Leabeater and Geoff Bugden, ‘the Bookends’.


In the Blue-and-Whites’ corner were Terry ‘Baa Baa’ Lamb, Steve ‘Turvey’ Mortimer and, in the front row, a personal favourite, rugged Peter Kelly, who apparently managed to forge a successful career in rugby league without a famous nickname.  The Dogs’ reserves included David ‘Cement’ Gillespie. The ref was Mick ‘Pebbles’ Stone.


The game itself, a bruising, tense encounter on a muddy pitch, was notable for being the first, and hopefully only, tryless Grand Final. Parra got up 4-2 although I maintain to this day that Kenny scored from a bomb in the second half.





But it’s page 34 that warms the cockles of the Red and Green heart, for the Under 23s decider was between Souths and Penrith. Big Bobby McCarthy’s son Darren played in the centres for the Rabbits, Joe Thomas in the second-row and Ian ‘Lurch’ Roberts as a prop in the 13-0 victory. The Panthers were captained by Tony Butterfield and a conspicuous member of his pack was the gangly number 35, Mark ‘The Tap’ Geyer. On their bench was Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll.


You can google it all and read about it online but, for me, the battered pages of the Big League are the real deal. I devoured every word in it, applauded the winners with it, wrote in it in biro the scorers (Cronin 2 goals, Lamb 1) and, after the game, caught the bus home with it in the back of my jeans.


That’s over thirty years ago now, and I can’t wait to go through the gates and get my next program.


Photographs provided by John Campbell.

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  1. Two pretty good sides in that Grand Final, John. And look at the depth in the Dogs’ squad! How about another story to tell us about that ‘worst ever defeat’ for the Rabbitohs? I assume you were there if you have the magazine.

  2. John Campbell says

    Yes Ian, I was there.
    The irony was that I went with a mate of mine who had brought his in-laws from Melbourne with him. It was their first ever game of rugby league and, wouldn’t you know it, they had to sit through the only ever tryless grand final! I felt kinda apologetic.

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