Traversing the great divide

When I was about ten, we moved back to Queensland.

I had been born there but then spent a few years in the footy heaven that is Victoria. I was footy nuts. We knew a little bit about rugby league: that they threw the ball and that there was mad tackling. Once or twice we played crazy rugby – like games on the yum-yum weed that was the second oval at Gowrie St primary in Shepparton.

We knew nothing about the division of the rugbies, and certainly nothing of the straight teeth of private schoolboys and the straight rights of the wild forwards of rugby league.

We knew a bit about soccer and Billy Bond and Brian Moore’s Match of the Day. Soccer was easy to understand.

Where we lived on the Darling Downs, very few people took much notice of the VFL. It was aerial ping pong and the talk in the Western Line and the Commercial was rugby league, and especially local rugby league.

I did what boys in Oakey did: I joined the Oakey Bears Under 12s where the traditional skills were taught. Kicking was pretty primitive, with a hand held under the football and the ball dropped and kicked in a weird sort of torpedo punt. Drop kicks were rare in kids’ football, but you would see them in matches from Brisbane and Sydney on ABC TV.

I was the kid who could catch, and I used to take the kicks for touch once they saw that my drop punts went pretty straight and just far enough to get over the touch line.

In my first year there I went to the A-Grade Grand Final at the Athletic Oval in Toowoomba. The sell-out crowd had spilled on to the ground and we sat not far from the touch-line.

When Dicky Rose kicked for touch, I sensed the ball was coming straight at me from about 40 yards away. I stood up to watch the towering punt and it did come to me. And I marked it. Sort of half on my face, half on my tiny chest. I hung on to it. I got an instant fat lip (in the days before asthma when kids still got fat lips and chilblains and warts).

The reaction to a tiny kid taking a catch like that was amazing. I got praised for my courage! I got praised for my skill to take such a catch! I didn’t tell them that most kids in Victoria would have done the same thing. It was, after all, a simple chest mark.

That’s what kids in Victoria did.

Since then, the marking and kicking skills have crossed over from footy to the two rugbies. And equally, footy has taken from rugby the techniques of tackling and herding.

You now see fine exponents of the drop punt. Darren Lockyer learnt to kick it from his father who played footy at Mt Gravatt . I suspect Laurie Daley learnt the skill down on the Barassi Line around Junee and Temora where footy is played on Saturday and rugby league on Sunday, and quite a few blokes back up.

Israel Folau has signed with Greater Western Sydney. When you watch players like Folau (Greg Inglis, Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt and quite a few of the rugby players like Will Genia), you see that they have the hand-eye coordination, the running and evading ability, and the power to perform well at any sport they’d take on.

I have seen Folau climb above packs as if he has played footy all his life. When he has the sit, he knows how to put that shin across his opponent’s iliac crest or on his shoulder and get the ride. He took a couple of absolute rippers in one state of origin match a couple of years ago.

But I’ve never seen him kick or hand-pass.

You’d have to say though that if Myke Pyke and some other footy novices can make their way then you’d expect Folau and Hunt to make a go of it. Apart from obvious natural talent, what they do have is performance at an elite level, which means the mental strength is there, although mental strength is not without context.

But I’m not sure any of that matters too much anyway. The AFL with its buckets of dosh will certainly be cashing in on the reality that many a Queensland and New South Wales household will turn their TVs to Channel Bruce out of sheer curiosity.

And that is worth squillions.

And as for his position: I can see Folau at centre-half forward, or even on the half-back flank.
He could be anything.

I just wish the recruiters had had the good sense to look at cricket.

Imagine Roger Harper as a key forward.

Viv playing on Diesel Williams in the guts.

Thommo on the ball.

The mind boggles.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. tim dixon says


    Gordy Tallis in a stoush with big bad Barry Hall with Bill Harrigan as the ref, now that would be a sight!!

  2. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    I too had the experience of leaving country Victoria where there was only one football in my mid- teens to move to Coffs Harbour where there were three codes of football. But rugby league was the main game which attracted the public attention, while the doctors and teachers plus lads who came home from boarding school played rugger, and soccer was just kick in the park for the left-overs.

    I trained with the Coffs rugby league club then coached by Phil Hawthorn, an ex dual international.Phil had it – a five-eighth, he could control a game a la Wally Lewis as he had done as a Wallaby and at St George. I reckon Phil could have switched codes – back then kids with a footy background switched to league or union – the Gordon, NSW and Australian full back Laurie Monaghan had done just that. The rugby commentators used to rave about Monaghan’s kicks.

    I never did play league; instead I helped start a footy club that initially didn’t have a competition to play in, but now has grown to the extent that there are more AFL clubs in the Coffs district than rugby league – and while league still commands the most support it is by now means dominant.

    Kids now grow up playing all codes of football – such that the Australian game is no longer bagged as much – only by the old league die-hards.

  3. Pamela Sherpa says

    Everytime I watch Luke Hodge play I say to myself “Geez, wouldn’t have minded him in my netball team”

    Rocket- I imagine Coffs is like many other coastal places that have a large number of ex Victorians living there and hence the interest in Aussie Rules

  4. Tony Robb says

    as I mentioned in another thread and Rocket would probably be aware as well, Greg Brentnall was the first player to introduce the drop punt to League, Dad coached him at the Wagga Tigers. He was offered a contract with South melb. and Canterbury in the same year. The boys touted now as league converts do not have an inate understanding of the game and therefore will struggle in pressure situations I feel.

  5. Joel Garner in the ruck, Michael Holding cruising across the half back line, Desmond Haines in the guts, Gordon Greenidge in the guts, Colin Croft at fullback, Roy Fredericks lurking near the goals………..

    Windies would have had a sensational AFL side. Why aren’t the recruiters going over there?

    If I get the time I might try and name a whole team!!

  6. Peter Flynn says


    Where would you place Larry Gomes and Carl Hooper?

  7. Deryk Murray Colin Croft Patrick Paterson
    Clive Lloyd Curtly Ambrose Michael Holding
    Carl Hooper Gordon Greenidge Brian Lara
    Roger Harper Andy Roberts Desmond Haynes
    Courtney Walsh Garfield Sobers Frank Worrell
    Rucks: Joel Garner Viv Richards Lawrence Rowe
    Interchange: Jeff Dujon, Larry Gomes, Malcolm Marshall, Wayne Daniel

    Flynny – check out the midfield!! And the half back line!!!

  8. ……and running around in the twos – Chris Gayle, Richie Richardson, Gus Logie, Collis King, Alvin Kallicharan………..

  9. Peter Flynn says

    Superb Dips.

    I reckon I’d have Roy Fredericks over Larry Gomes and Marshall over flaky Hooper.

    Gary Sobers could play anywhere.

    I understand the difficulties involved in not being able to fit Inshan Ali, Albert Padmore, Bernard Julien and Keith Boyce etc in the side.

    Just like selecting an All-Australian team. A very difficult assignment.

  10. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Back to the Riverina…

    Tony – you’re right Greg Brentnall became the first exponent I can remember of the drop punt in rugby league. He had an illustrious career playing in premierships for Canterbury, for NSW and Australia. He was zoned to South Melbourne and played a few reserves matches on permits.

    GB was a Turvey Park man – played both league and footy for Turvey. He was full back as a 16 year old in the team that lost the 1973 grand final to Coolamon.

    Along with his Turvey rugby league team-mates, the Mortimer brothers, Steve, Peter and Chris they went to the ‘Berries (they weren’t the Bulldogs back then!)

  11. I was a fortunate QLD-er. My primary school was in an area that played AFL in winter. Unfortunately, high school was rugby union, although it has since become popular.

    As Rocket well knows, the mighty fighting Abu Dhabi Falcons have converted a few Americans, a South African (admittedly he has an Aussie Mum, but he sounds like a Saffa), some Irish and a pom. A few locals have had a kick, but not represented, yet. And the Bali Geckos had a few RL and RU types who contributed greatly. Including Pizza Dan, an English RU Fullback who played FF. Sure his knowledge of the rules wasn’t great, but entertainment? He was a champ!

    I recall Michael Jordan attending a GF, when he was at the height of his powers, saying that the game was made for him and he wished he could have played. Might well of been promotional speak. But a few basketballers have been succesfully converted. A 6’7″ mobile athlete like hime might have been a worthwhile investment…

    I would like to see Vanburn Holder included in WI team. For no other reason than he has a regal sounding name.

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