Fifty Years Ago - 1971 Semi Final match report

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George Peterson's look back at the 1971 NSWRFL season ventures into the finals this week with a look back at the Semi Final which pitted the Saints and against Parra.


St George (19) defeated Parramatta (8) in a spine-tingling extra time, elimination final at the SCG, on Saturday August 28th 1971.   On a perfect day for rugby league 38,157 fans watched both sets of forwards tackle themselves to a standstill only to look up and see that the score stood at 8 - 8, after 80 minutes.    

The first semi-final to need extra time since 1960, had everything that fans love.  It was fast. It was tough and it had a fairy tale ending.  

First, fans of the mighty St George, (with coach Jack Gibson selecting two virtual unknowns), saw both of those players score tries, during regulation time. New centre Bob Clapham and 2nd row team-mate, Ted Walton each crossed over to stretch the Saints lead out to 8 - 2, prior to half time. Then as if on cue, the pendulum swung back during the second 40 and Parramatta's goal kicker Keith Campbell, used the opportunity provided by the refs whistle, as it punished Saints smaller forwards, to kick three penalty goals and draw even with three minutes left on the clock.    

Parramatta Coach, Ian Walsh, was proud of his team, but he must have been disappointed that his much heavier and more experienced scrum, were not able to dominate possession as expected.  St George actually won the scrums 18 - 14 and as the scoreboard showed, used their possession better.   After Ted Walton scored his try, one minute before ‘Oranges', the Red and Whites had posted two tries while Parramatta were not able to cross the line. In fact, the only time they did get over the line, half John Wilson was rolled onto his back and was unable to touch down.  Wilson's miss was in the 79th minute and it was Parramatta's first and last genuine try scoring opportunity. 

In 1971, extra-time for finals was 10 minutes each way and "golden point" was unheard of.  After the first 20 minutes of extra time another 10 minutes would be played until one team took the lead and held it till the bell.  

At the SCG that day, St George dominated extra time because of one player - Billy Smith.    Possession was shared in the first part of extra time until at the end of their fourth set, Saints half Billy Smith broke the deadlock with a snap field goal.  Given how tight the match had been since the Walton try in the 39th minute, what happened next, left the crowd stunned.  Smith's field goal had cannoned in off the up-right but it was his next kick that did all the damage.  Smith hoisted an up and under (a bomb in today's language) on the last tackle of the set and Eels Fullback Dick Thornett watched on in horror as the ball he was unable to catch, was knocked toward the dead ball line by a team mate only to see it pounced upon by Saints captain and hero  Graeme Langlands.  The 8-8 score had become, after the field goal and converted try, a 6 point deficit.  Then in the 89th minute, Billy Smith broke open the defence of Parramatta's tiring forwards and sent his lock Norm Henderson charging downfield , and as if ordained by the coach, rookie 2nd rower Ted Walton loomed up to take the inside pass and score under the posts.  The score was suddenly, St George 19 - Parramatta 8 and that's the way it stayed.  St George coach Jack Gibson, in discussing the result with the press said of his team, "they became men in extra time!".    

Parramatta's season is over while St George get a one-week holiday, as they sit back and wait to see who wins the major semi next week between Manly and South Sydney.  The winner next week progresses straight to the Grand final and the loser plays St George on September 12th.   (Earlier, in Reserve Grade, St George (23) defeated Western Suburbs (10) and in third grade Souths defeated Parramatta, 15 -12.