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Tim Burke grew up two kilometres from Brookvale Oval and, from age seven, found himself sitting inside the fence on the old trotting track at ‘Brookie’ watching the Manly-Warringah ‘Seagulls’ as they were known then.  His earliest rugby league memory is of Manly’s Rex Mossop being belted by Wests’ Noel Kelly.  A favourite memory of Tim’s own children is travelling by train from Canberra to Sydney and back on the one day with two other families to watch the Raiders thrash Souths in the 1989 Preliminary Final.  These days Tim is a (very) mature age student at the University of Wollongong Bega Campus, and does a little teaching as well.  He has four grandchildren, all of whom can sing ‘The Green Machine’. In this contribution, Tim goes back fifty years to a formative experience for him and his rugby league mates. 


In May 1970 the Great Britain rugby league squad landed in Australia for a traditional tour and Test series. Perhaps in that bicentenary of James Cook’s arrival, the tourists looked down on their opponents as the sons of convicts. In turn, the Poms – or ‘Chooms’ as they were better known – were probably labelled the worst team ever to arrive in Australia, that being a routine media insult in those days. The description would have seemed apt when Australia thrashed them 37-15 in the First Test in Brisbane.


In that Test, the failings of the British team were personified by their fullback, Terry Price. Called lumbering, slow and overweight, he was lampooned everywhere from the press to the schoolyard and the training paddock. I had an older brother, an exceptionally talented cricketer who also played fullback for the school’s First XIII.  Skilful, but not exactly the fastest player in that position, he was nicknamed ‘Terry Price’ by his team-mates.


In 1970 I was fourteen and becoming disillusioned with rugby league. In our inter-school age division, it was difficult packing into scrums against blokes starting to grow beards when my voice had barely broken. And my First Grade team of choice, Manly, seemed as far away as ever from winning its first premiership.


What stood in Manly’s way was Souths. I suppose it was a privilege of adolescence to have hatreds of the kind I felt toward the Rabbitohs. Their 13-9 win over Manly in the 1968 Grand Final was a painful memory. And I particularly disliked Eric Simms, their fullback. His goal-kicking often made the difference in crucial games, in the opposite way to our goal-kicker, Bob Batty, whom my mother regarded as a gentleman but who fell apart under pressure.


Nowadays I think of Eric Simms as a goal-kicker of unmatched talent.  Like a long-legged fly upon the stream / his mind moves upon silence; these were the words used by W. B. Yeats to capture the concentrated genius of Julius Caesar planning for battle and Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Had the poet been transported in time to 1970, he might have watched Eric Simms lining up for goal and given him his own stanza.


Uninspired as I may have been at 14, I nonetheless went along with my father to watch the Second Test at the SCG. Dad was a keen league man. The international game had been strong in the post-war period. Dad maintained that the touring Frenchmen of 1951 were the best league side he had ever seen. Unfortunately, I could never pin down whether renowned fullback Puig Aubert really had smoked Gauloises on the field, as legend claimed.


On 20 June 1970 we sat on the Paddington Hill. The pre-match entertainment consisted solely of a band playing God Save the Queen, it being the national anthem of both countries. We then watched the maligned Great Britain crush Australia 28-7, silencing the 61,000-strong crowd.


Dad and I returned for the Third Test, again at a packed SCG.  Great Britain won 21-17, which sounds close until you realise they scored five tries (then worth three points) to Australia’s one. Australia were never really in it.


To view highlights from the 1970 Ashes series, click here.


The two SCG Tests in 1970 are usually thought of as Roger Millward’s Tests, and there is no doubt he displayed a rare level of individual brilliance along with superb generalship of the attack. Millward had replaced Alan Hardisty, the legendary five-eighth who played in the First Test. Across the two matches, Millward scored three tries and kicked nine goals and a field goal. However, I also remember a darting halfback, Keith Hepworth, a rugged enforcer in the centres, Syd Hynes (or, as the BBC’s Eddie Waring would call him, Siddines!), fast-finishing wingers John Atkinson and Alan Smith, long-striding second-rowers Doug Laughton and Jim Thompson, and a front-row with two props, Cliff Watson and Dennis Hartley, who in later times might have landed gigs as barbarians in Game of Thrones. At hooker was no-nonsense Tony Fisher. Then there were lock Malcolm Reilly, all toughness and creativity, and centre and captain Frank Myler, a natural leader. Terry Price, incidentally, had been dropped, in favour of Derek Edwards and then Mick Shoebottom.


To sum up the Brits’ superiority, Dennis Hartley, despite being one of the slowest forwards in the game, “sped” twenty metres to score a try in the Third Test, swatting away Australian halfback Bob Grant like King Kong with a bi-plane. Mal Reilly would later write in his autobiography that Hartley had been a good senior man on tours, keeping young tearaways like himself in check. Cliff Watson would make his mark in the Sydney premiership, helping Tommy Bishop steer Cronulla to the 1973 Grand Final. I had always thought of Watson as the classic northerner who’d knock off at mine and go straight to footy field, but it turns out he was a Londoner who answered an ad in the paper for a vacancy at St Helens, a bit like a character from a John Braine novel.


See the scoreboards of the three Test matches from 1970 by clicking here.


In the aftermath of Australia’s series loss, our press, in Said Hanrahan mode, gloomily forecast an unending period of British dominance in league. This sentiment was more or less shared in the playground, classrooms and training paddock at our school. Remember that the ‘Chooms’ had just flogged Australian teams that included great players like Ron Coote, Arthur Beetson, Bob Fulton and John Brass. It was certainly something I talked about with my good mate Steve, our team’s lock and best player.


Adding to the pressures, the rugby league World Cup came later that year. Now I know that these days the juxtaposition of “rugby league” and “World Cup” might  raise sniggers, but it was different in 1970. Like everyone else, I’d absorbed England’s victory in the 1966 football (soccer) World Cup but it wasn’t until 1974, when Peter Wilson led the Socceroos in Germany, that the global importance of that game really hit home to provincial me. And yes, I’ll accept the point made repeatedly by the late Les Murray – the broadcaster, not the poet – that, Socceroos aside, the Australia of the 1960s and 70s was something of a sporting cultural wasteland.


Be that as it may, Australia was rated no chance of winning the 1970 rugby league World Cup, and its early form in the competition – losing to France as well as the ‘Chooms’ – seemed to vindicate the prediction.  Australia fluked its way to the Final against the undefeated Great Britain, on points difference.


Then, against all odds, Australia won.


At age fourteen, Steve and I watched the live telecast from Leeds as Australia ground out its 12-7 victory in the Final. Australia’s team was somewhat makeshift, including an unlikely centre pairing of Paul Sait and the footballing priest, John Cootes. In the national interest, I put aside my differences with Souths (who’d easily beaten Manly in the 1970 Grand Final), to cheer on the team’s seven-strong Rabbitohs contingent, including Sait, captain Ron Coote and, at fullback in place of the unavailable Graeme Langlands, Eric Simms.


It was a brutal match – “pure bloody mayhem paraded as sport”, according to the Daily Mail.  Billy Smith and Siddines! were sent off.  “Relentless” describes Australia’s aptly Irish-themed props, John O’Neill and Bob O’Reilly, as they established and retained, by foul means and fair, that dominance over the opposing forwards on which victory was secured.  Yet Alan Whiticker, in his book Glory Days, recounts that after O’Neill and his counterpart Dennis Hartley had viciously fought it out for 75 minutes, Hartley asked O’Neill if they could swap jerseys after the game.


To view brief highlights of the 1970 World Cup Final, click here.

To see the 1970 World Cup Final scoreboard and team lists, click here.




I grew up, got married, had kids. Moved with the family to Canberra, luckily in the leadup to the Raiders’ golden era. Lost touch with Steve. Moved back to Sydney for work. Went bush.


Caught up again with Steve, over 20 years ago now. Since then he and I, with a couple of other school mates, have been getting together each year, usually over a roaring fire and a bottle or two of red. We don’t relive our glory days of school footy because there were hardly any to speak of. Sadly, our school was better at more refined activities such as cricket and debating. We tend to discuss subjects such as politics, history, literature, music and even a bit of philosophy (we doubt we will ever crack the existential dilemma of postlapsarian man, first posed to us in Fifth Form). But then, late at night, we invariably return to rugby league, to that landscape of the mind that is forever 1970.


Steve and I recall Frank Hyde reporting the day after the World Cup Final that he had never felt prouder to be Australian. We raise a toast to Frank Hyde, one of the voices of our childhood, a voice that would ring out from our fathers’ home workshops on weekends. And we raise a toast to Eric Simms, not only for playing the game of his life in that match but because he was the victim of an incident that was one of the nastiest and (only in hindsight) funniest in the history of rugby league. After the final bell sounded, Simms went to shake the hand of British winger John Atkinson. Atkinson punched him.


Our World Cup-winning team of 1970 is largely forgotten, along with traditional Test series and, indeed, the idea that international rugby league could be the highest form of the game. Steve and I were watching Rex Mossop’s broadcast in 1978, again from Leeds, when Les Boyd monstered the Poms in the second half of the series decider; the Kangaroos’ 23-6 win that day marked the end of Anglo-Australian Tests as a continuous contest.




Recently I acquired a DVD of the First Test in 1970, won 37-15 by Australia.  Typical of league at the time, the match was full of stoppages, with mind-boggling numbers of scrums and penalties. Although, oddly enough, this emphasised the brilliance of the passages of play that weren’t interrupted, it has to be said that the game has come on a great deal in the last fifty years, even if pre-match entertainment has gone backwards.


The main revelation for me, though, was Terry Price. He was not the stranded whale of unblessed memory. He was heavily targeted and made a few mistakes, but he had good positional sense and a powerful, territory-gaining kicking game. Sure, he was no Usain Bolt, but he could find his way into the backline. He couldn’t catch Johnny King but he did nab Australia’s other winger, John Cootes, taking him into touch inches from the line. I told my brother, the former fullback; he was pleased.


Terry Price died in 1993, hit by a car while helping a motorist whose own car had broken down. The Independent’s obituary notes that, in addition to the one league Test for Great Britain, he had represented Wales eight times in rugby union and toured with the British (rugby union) Lions in 1966. The obituary indicates that he ended his footballing days in gridiron as a place-kicker for the Buffalo Bills. There was a lot more to the man than the figure ridiculed in Brisbane.


As for that 1970 British touring squad in which Price played an insignificant part, they, too, are now largely forgotten. Somewhere in the story of change since the 1970s – to the socio-economics of England’s north, to British sport – lies an explanation for the demise of the rugby league Lions; but also for the rise of a new generation of formidably talented Englishmen, such as the five turning out for the Canberra Raiders in 2020, assuming they can get on the field. Look at John Bateman and you see a new Malcolm Reilly, but faster.


James Cook was, as we know, the first English captain to tour Australia without scoring a run. Frank Myler, an actual captain, did better two hundred years later, scoring two tries in six Tests (they toured New Zealand as well as Australia). His team was the last British rugby league side to defeat Australia in a Test series.  It lost only one match from 24 on the 1970 tour.  It was a revelation with its skills, athleticism and creativity in the Sydney Tests.  And those performances, together with Australia’s subsequent miraculous win at Leeds, mean that, fifty years on, at least one formerly disillusioned 14-year-old is still in love with the game.


To see the results of all matches played by the 1970 British rugby league Lions on their 1970 tour of Australia and New Zealand, click here.



Malcolm Reilly (ex-Castleford) and John O’Neill (ex-South Sydney) both went on to join Manly, between them giving the club the ‘mongrel’ it needed to finally win its first premiership in 1972.


Editor’s note: To mark the 50th anniversary of the victorious 1970 Lions Tour, the Rugby Football League presented commemorative medals to surviving players and family representatives from the 1970 Tour in January of this year. You can read about it by clicking here.


An earlier version of this article first appeared on Tim Burke’s blog, Musings, and appears here in edited form with permission.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Welcome to the Almanac team, Tim. Your article takes us back to another era. My childhood memories (50s and 60s) are of the international game dominating the code. The Test series against the ‘Chooms’ were the ultimate. It was also a time when players could be selected for Australia from their regional club teams. Imagine that today!

    Looking forward to more of your contributions.

  2. Matt O'hanlon says

    Great read Tim. I remember the 1974 tour when I was 11 like you remember the 1970 tour. The team toured Queensland Country and when the Chooms (we always called them the Chooms) played CQ at Browne Park in Rocky games started at about 7.30 am. I still have the program as I played in an early curtain raiser and was a ball boy for the main Curtain raiser. My lasting memory was the size of Jim Mills and Terry Clawson’s lilywhite legs. I met Jim Mills years later and he was nowhere near the giant I remembered as an 11 year old but a lovely fellow. I spent time having a yarn with him as his son was in a BARLA U/16 team we were hosting in Bundaberg where I lived at the time. I have signatures as well. Other players I recall were Chris Hesketh who was captain, Les Dyl, John Gray, Steve Nash and black second rower Colin Dixon. Alan Hardisty played for CQ as he was Captain Coach of Railways in Rocky at the time. Like your father my Dad always talked about seeing the great Puig Aubert play and kicking goals from all over the place whilst sucking on a durrey!

  3. Tim Burke says

    Thanks, Ian and Matt. Matt – your memories from 1974 are priceless. They remind me that the touring ‘Chooms’ that year played Western Division at Wade Park, Orange, in a somewhat, ahem, violent encounter (which apparently galvanised the Brits to get serious about winning the second test). Of course 1974 was the year Western Division won the inaugural Amco Cup, a triumph beautifully captured in Ian Heads’s book “The Night the Music Died.” There is something deeply appealing about tough British props like Jim Mills (or Cliff Watson) who turn out to be nice guys. I haven’t met Jim Mills but I have met Greg Fearnley, the Western Division prop and team enforcer who opposed Mills at Orange in 1974, including in the all-in brawls. I can say without a shadow of doubt that Greg is a true gentleman. And finally: Alan Hardisty. To my mates and me, the third test in 1966 was one of the best ever, and the penalty try Col Pearce awarded to Hardisty was its most dramatic moment. Even if Hardisty was a veteran in 1974, it would have been a privilege to watch him play.

  4. Adam Muyt says

    Loved it Tim. Only have the vaguest of memories of the tour and games but many of the the names standout. Mal Reilly and T.Bishop, particularly. Mal Reilly was one tough player, and such an important part of those great premiership sides of the early 1970s. And Tom gave Cronulla grunt and leadership.
    BTW, Manly has never been known as the Seagulls. A myth started by a journo Jim Mathers, who mistook the club symbol for a seagull. Manly were one of the first clubs to have a nickname. The Sea Eagle was chosen as it was a native bird of prey along the Sydney coastline.

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