Almanac Rugby League: One hell of a nice bloke

Just over seven years ago, I wrote an Almanac post extolling the consummate skills of the then Melbourne Storm half-back Cooper Cronk (April 3, 2013). I titled it Honk, honk, here comes Cronk, attributing the phrase to a Courier Mail article from the late 1960s which was written about a Past Brothers player named Cronk. It’s one of those phrases that struck me as a 14-year-old and has stayed with me for over fifty years. At the time I wrote that piece, John Leahy commented that the player referred to was Grahame Cronk, ‘a lanky centre with a good turn of pace’. Greg Mallory chimed in to suggest that the caption (circa 1968) was actually ‘Honky tonk, here comes Cronk’.

 

Five years passed by. Then in May 2018, I was sitting at my desk doing my footyalmanac editing shift for the week when an email popped up on the screen from, you guessed it, Grahame Cronk! Over the next hour or two we traded emails, finally progressing to a chat on the phone.

 

Several weeks previously, Grahame’s friend, a librarian, somehow stumbled across my 2013 Almanac piece and, noting the reference to Grahame, brought it to his attention. Further research unearthed my email address and ‘ping’, there he was in my Inbox.

 

Grahame and I arranged to catch up for coffee. It wasn’t too difficult to do – we discovered that we lived just four kilometres from each other! Coincidentally, we both retired in the Noosa area and share a favourite local coffee shop, Gibsons

 

Here’s what I wrote after my first meeting with Grahame.

 

It only took fifty years and some recent favourable happenstance but a couple of weeks ago I came face-to-face with a man who featured in a 1967 newspaper sports photograph. It was that photo’s caption, ‘Honk, honk, here comes Cronk’, which grabbed hold of my memory as a 14-year-old, took up residence in my subconscious mind and came back out to play when I used it in an Almanac post I wrote in April 2013 about a current player with the same surname.

 

Grahame Cronk was a member of one of the strongest teams ever to represent ‘The Fighting Irish’, Past Brothers, in the Brisbane Rugby League competition in pre-Broncos days. Consecutive premierships in 1967 and 1968 ensured their iconic status in both club and BRL annals. Coached by former Kangaroo legend Brian ‘Bull’ Davies, it featured at least five players who represented the Kangaroos at some point during their careers, Peter Gallagher, John Gleeson, Dennis Monteit, Noel Cavanagh and Frank Drake as well as several other Queensland representative players. Rugby league aficionados will tell you that these players were Queensland and BRL royalty in their day. The modern equivalents would be the likes of Wally, Alfie, Geno, Big Mal, Locky, Cam, Thursto and Billy.

 

 

 

Just to get into that team was quite an achievement; to be a regular for six seasons and to play over one hundred First Grade games says a lot about Grahame’s abilities on the field. In a nine year senior career in Brisbane, Grahame played for Teachers Norths in rugby union for three seasons, gaining Queensland selection as a winger on three occasions. Switching to rugby league, his boyhood code in Gympie, he played for Past Brothers for six seasons (including the 1967 premiership team), represented Brisbane in the highly competitive Bulimba Cup on one occasion and retired at a time and choosing of his own at just twenty-six years of age. It was a different era. A full-time teacher, married with two small children, a mortgage to pay and a future to build, Grahame knew when he had had enough and wasn’t able to give it what it needed anymore.

 

 

 

Growing up at that time in the late 50s and 60s, I didn’t like Brothers at all. In fact, I loathed them. It was all a part of the sectarian divide of the time. Brothers was the Catholic club, anathema to my Lutheran heritage. At boarding school in Toowoomba, the grudge match of our footy season was Concordia (good Lutheran Protestant lads) v St Mary’s CBC. In the local league, All Whites were the (Catholic) villains; in Brisbane it was Past Brothers in their butchers stripes. These teams were the NRL’s Manly, the AFL’s Collingwood, teams you loved to hate – at least from my side of the divide. We can only be thankful that we’ve all grown up and gained a bit of understanding, tolerance and wisdom – about sectarianism, that is, not our dislike of Manly or Collingwood!

 

The man I met last week is the antithesis of my immature boyhood prejudices. In fact, he’s one hell of a nice bloke. In his physical presence, it’s not hard to imagine the ‘rangy, long-striding centre’ who once toyed with defences. Later on Grahame ran half-marathons and today plays golf and swims regularly. He and his wife Anne maintain a good fitness regime. His clear mind suggests that he got out of the game before he copped too many blows to the head. Bear in mind that he played in a rough and tumble era when stiff-arm tackles were de jour and spear tackles were applauded. At 72, he cuts a good figure in his Marist (Ashgrove) polo shirt.

 

Grahame is not one to blow his own trumpet about his achievements as a player. There’s definitely no ‘honk’ about this Cronk! He’s happy to share anecdotes about his days in the game, stories about particular players and matches, and insights about the code in those days. You hear a lot of respect for team-mates and opponents. One name keeps recurring, John Gleeson, his Brothers team-mate and the incumbent Brisbane, Queensland and Australian five-eighth of that time. Gleeson had it all – leadership, scintillating attack, strong defence well above his weight, limitless courage, and a scheming brain.

 

Listening to Grahame, you have to remember that circumstances then were unlike those of today. Most players had full-time jobs and received modest match payments. Grahame’s winning bonus after the victorious 1967 Grand Final was a princely $20! Players could also expect to be involved in matches outside of the official fixtures. One such match was the Waterside Workers’ interstate clash in October 1967, not long after the BRL Grand Final. Brisbane and Sydney waterside teams had met since 1939 for the Jim Healey Cup. Both sides drew their selections from beyond the wharves and, in this match, school teacher Grahame somehow found himself playing for the Brisbane wharfies. The Sydney team also featured a ring-in of some note, one A Beetson! It was the only time Grahame ever played against the great man. The match souvenir programme makes fascinating reading.

 

Apart for a brief two year period working in business, Grahame worked as a school teacher for 37 years. Initially he served the State Education Department as a primary teacher at Aspley East State School before joining the Catholic sector at secondary level. In these early years, he also took on night study to gain his Business degree at the then Queensland Institute of Technology. (Imagine fitting all of this in with a wife and young family, a full-time teaching load and first grade footy!) He taught Accounting, Maths and Science at Padua College and Marcellin College (later Mt Maria College) before returning to Padua as a permanent supply teacher. He also did some part-time tutoring and lecturing in business subjects at QIT.

 

These days Grahame is a relaxed retiree basking in the Noosa sunshine. He swims, plays golf, is involved in his local parish and enjoys the many good coffee outlets available in the area, especially Gibsons. He keeps up to date with what goes on in the footy world, knows the current ups and downs of the players of his era, and is looking forward to the 50-year reunion of the 1968 premiership team later in the year. He’s just had a weekend in Rockhampton watching his granddaughter play in the State touch footy championships. Talent runs in the family.

 

 

Grahame Cronk (left) and the writer at Gibsons

 

A modest and self-effacing man, Grahame clearly enjoys a chat about the footy. He brings to it a perspective available only to an active participant, but it’s not about him. It’s about the game, the players, the stories. When you meet players, past or present, like Grahame Cronk, it’s easy to agree with Matt O’Hanlon when he says, “You’ve just got to love footy!”

 

Footnote: Two and a half years later,  Grahame and his wife Anne have become good friends. We were all teachers, we both drive VW Golfs, we love a coffee at Gibsons, we honour the traditions of our religious heritage, and we enjoy relaxed conversations about life, the universe and everything over a lingering lunch or dinner. One of the pleasures of moving to Noosaville to retire has been to meet and get to know the Cronks.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Love those chance meetings – and where they go.

    I am right on the cusp of remembering Grahame Cronk.

    PS. Haven’t heard Padua College referenced too often.

  2. Paul Circosta says

    Ian – a great article on Grahame Cronk from one who remembers seeing him play for Brothers at their old Corbett Park Ground.

  3. Thanks Ian, always a great thrill to hear about the former names of the BRL in the pre-Broncos era. Up Brothers!

  4. Greg Mallory says

    Great article the headline “honky tonk here comes Cronk”

  5. Matt O'Hanlon says

    Great stuff Ian- brothers great!
    and you have got to love footy!

  6. Marcos De Feilittt says

    Went to Aspley East State School where Mr Cronk was a teacher (he was playing at the time). Big, tall fella – to us Grade 4’s anyway. Taught another class in the grade that I was in. Kids referred to him as ‘Lurch’ -‘Adams Family’ was big on TV at the time.

    Nice bloke alright.

    Wrote the his class notes for the annual school newspaper – referring to a certain kid as ‘Smelly’ and another bloke being noted for chewing rubbers and eating dirt – something that someone would complain about today and spark a Royal Commission or some other waste of time.

    Anyway – that ‘Honk, Honk’ story of ‘Lurch’ playing a blinder appears in the Monday Courier. The teacher of my class (who apparently wasn’t big on the old RL) asked the class what all the fuss was about with Mr Cronk.

    One of the kids yells out ‘Honk, Honk, Here comes Cronk’ and was swiftly and rebuked by the teacher. We all sniggered.

    Kid who yelled out the Cronk thing was none other than Rodney Welford, who became a Minister in various Qld Labor Governments.

    FYI

  7. Andy Thurlow says

    Great story and serendipitous. I’m always intrigued at how, in a world with just under 8 billion people, connections are made and enjoyed. You are a very busy Vegemiter, Ian – and your excellent writing is bringing rugby league deeper into our (AFL dominated) lives. Congratulations!

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