NZ league loses another tough customer

Doug Gailey, both famed and feared as one of the hardest forwards to play the game, has died suddenly in Auckland. He was found dead in his home on Sunday morning.

As a marauding prop in the late 1960s and throughout the '70s, Gailey never shied away from work or confrontation in an era when rugby league was always bruising and regularly brutal. His reputation as a hard man matched that of the legendary Maunga Emery; some say he was even tougher than Emery.

Originally with the powerful Ellerslie club in Auckland, Gailey, hardened up by his trade as a blocklayer, made his test debut against Australia in 1969 and was near ever-present for the Kiwis until his final series against Great Britain in 1974.

His greatest moments came when he was an integral part of one of New Zealand's most outstanding - but vastly underrated - sporting achievements.

That was the Kiwis' historic test series victory against Great Britain in 1971, New Zealand's first success against the Lions in England.

In the first two tests Gailey was united in an intimidating front row with fellow prop Henry Tatana and hooker Jim Fisher. Against all odds, the Kiwis dramatically won the first test 18-13 in Salford and clinched history with a pulsating 17-14 victory in Castleford.

Gailey missed the inconsequential third test defeat with injury but then played all three tests in France as the Kiwis won that series as well.

After taking his career total to 19 tests in the 1974 series against Great Britain, Gailey took up a contract with Wentworthville in Sydney's Metropolitan Cup in 1975. He also had a trial for Sydney premiership club Balmain. As was the case with transfers in those times, the move precluded Gailey from playing test football, so joining the likes of Tatana, Bill Noonan, Bernie Lowther, Oscar Danielson, Bill Deacon and others who had signed for Australian clubs in the late '60s and early '70s.

After his stint in Australia - he later played in Illawarra and Wide Bay-Bundaberg - Gailey returned home to take up a contract as player-coach for Manukau in the Auckland club competition. This led to a golden year for the Magpies in 1979 when Gailey guided them to success in the Roope Rooster knockout competition, the 16-12 win over the Olsen Filipaina-inspired Mangere East in the final sparking what was readily acknowledged as the biggest party the club had seen since the Second World War. That same year, Gailey's Auckland career was revived when coach Don Hammond called on him for a few matches including an unforgettable battle with the touring Great Britain side at Carlaw Park.

In the tradition of games against touring teams back then, this night match wasn't for the faint-hearted and Gailey found himself in the middle of it all. He thrived on it.

Auckland fielded a front row of Gailey, hooker Murray Netzler and another former Kiwi Wayne Roberston as the other prop while young Kiwi Gary Prohm was at loose forward with future Kiwi Owen Wright one of the second rowers. Sitting nervously on the bench was a lean young back rower from Mt Albert by the name of John Ackland. As it transpired he was thankful his services weren't required.

Great Britain, which had just lost the third test to the Kiwis, put out its midweek combination for the tour-ending fixture, the line-up including some fairly tough customers.

To say the contest was torrid was an understatement. It flared up time and time again, erupting in an all-in brawl after British prop Mel James tangled with Gailey. The Brits won 18-10 but Gailey fought, unbowed, to the end.

Many are the stories about his on-field exploits, some of which are bound to be aired when he is farewelled at at the Chapel of Love and Remembrance, Mangere Cemetery, McKenzie Rd, Mangere, at 2.00pm on Friday (February 9).