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George's weekly column is nearly at its end - this time it's a preview of the 1971 Grand Final between South Sydney and St George.
Grand Final week 1971 started with a scandal!! Really, rugby league players going off script, I never thought that would happen.
Ok putting aside my sarcasm, we do have to remember that most rugby league players are young, fit, healthy men and (especially Grand Final players) who have the world at their feet. Most cannot believe their luck. They are being paid to play a game they love, and many have a groove worn into their shoulder blade from all the 'backslapping'. Even back in 1971 the scrutiny could be overwhelming and 50 years on, it must be inescapable.
When fullback Eric Simms and prop forward John O'Neil were not 'on duty' for Souths training at Centennial Park last Saturday morning, Rod Humphries at the Herald knew there were a few paragraphs in it for him. Of-course Saturday morning was before the big game and Sunday was dominated by the wash up from the final, so Monday became the day to run with the 'no-show' story. On Monday, we discover that John O'Neil was late but missed just half of the session and did extra training on Sunday as penance for failing to bring a late note from his mum. Eric Simms was still absent, also failing to attend the team barbie and knees up, held Sunday. So, what is going on?
'The club have not heard from Simms, who did not turn up at a club barbecue yesterday, but it is believed he is not ill or injured.' This is not a direct quote because the club refused to comment officially saying only that the Club Committee would meet on Tuesday night to discuss the issue. A $50 fine is the likely punishment.
The South Sydney team will not be officially announced until Tuesday night but all indications are that it will be unchanged from the side that defeated Manly in the semi- final, two weeks ago;
Fullback - Eric Simms
Wingers - Keith Edwards and Ray Brannigan
Centres - Bob Honan and Paul Sait
5/8th - Denis Pittard and Halfback- Bob Grant
Lock Forward - Ron Coote
Second Rowers - Bob McCarthy and Gary Stevens
Prop Forwards - John Sattler (c) and John O'Neil
Hooker - George Piggins.
Meanwhile over at St George, the Dragons will be without forward Keith Maddison who has his leg in plaster from a likely ACL injury and he is expected to be replaced by 25-year-old front row specialist, Grahame Bowen. However, with Jack Gibson as the clipboard carrier, nothing is ever certain. Gibson has certainly been rewarded by the contributions of Bob Clapham, Ted Dalton and Harry Eden, who until four weeks ago, were reserve graders. Against howls of protest, Gibson dropped four more experienced players and made positional changes, after his teams embarrassing loss to North Sydney in Round 21. As subsequent results show, his actions had the desired effect. St George defeated Penrith in round 22, then Parramatta and Manly in consecutive elimination finals, running in 9 tries to 2. Interestingly, if not for Keith's injury, both Maddison boys, dropped one month ago by Gibson, would have been selected for Grand Final team.
St George announced their teams for all three grade on Tuesday night, at a training session watched by hundreds of local fans. As predicted Bowen came in for Madison. It was the only change to last weeks' winning combination. (See Below)
Fullback - Graeme Langlands (c)
Wingers - Ken Batty and Geoff Carr
Centres - Ken Maddison and Bob Clapham
5/8th - Tony Branson and Halfback- Billy Smith
Lock Forward - Ted Dalton
Second Rowers - Barry Beath and Peter Fitzgerald
Prop Forwards - Harry Eden and Grahame Bowen
Hooker - Col Rasmussen.
The shock selection on Monday night was the appointment of Keith Holman as referee for the Grand Final. As late as yesterday, the Herald was reporting that Keith Page was "a certainty" to control the biggest match of the year. However, Page will carry the whistle in the reserve grade instead. Ex-referee and columnist Col Pearce, revealed how he and Holman clashed regularly when Holman was captain of the great Western Suburbs teams of the 1950's. Holman retired after the 1961 season and contacted Pearce to get his help to qualify for his refereeing ticket. After a few hours with Pearce, Holman, a state and national representative, captain coach at the Magpies (1954 & 55) with 200 first grade matches under his belt, discovered he didn't have an especially strong grasp of the rules!! Ten years later Holman has the whistle and will have to bat off the team captains, who may or may not know what they're complaining about, except, they don't like the result.
The NSWRL committee thought, rightly or wrongly, that when they announced that the GF was a sell-out, the television stations would break the land speed record, getting to Phillip Street to start the fight over who would show the match live.
Bill Buckley, President of the NSWRL, contacted the TV stations on Tuesday with the big news. However, the bosses at channels 7, 9, and 10 were busy and left their reply to industry spokesman Arthur Cowan;
"It is a bit late in the year for it (the league) to endeavour to come to terms for one match only, commencing in a couple of days, even though it be a grand final."
"The president of the Rugby-League, Mr Buckley, has been advised by me that the managers of the three Sydney stations, ATN 7, TCN 9 and TEN 10, would only be interested in discussing rights for the grand final if some firm arrangements could be entered into for next season."
The statement concluded with; "The League has, by its attitude throughout the season, indicated it was quite happy that the Sydney public be deprived of watching Rugby League on television and if the League is not now willing to talk, it is a continuation of that policy of indifference." The ABC put its hand up, with an offer to telecast the GF into country NSW and interstate but are waiting on a response from league headquarters.
It's fair to say Bill Buckley, was underwhelmed and a little miffed with the commercial TV stations response. "It must be obvious to everyone that a free and open discussion on next year's television would not be possible in the next few days," he said. "We are prepared to start negotiations for next year as early as next week but it would be impossible before this Saturday."
So, until arrangements for a season long contract to televise Rugby League can be agreed, no live Rugby League will be seen on TV this week, by the population of Sydney - Australia's largest city.
Fans who don't have a ticket for the match, but who still want to experience the Grand Final live, will need to:
visit friends or family outside the Sydney basin, to watch the ABC
travel to a country pub, grab a seat in the Saloon Bar to watch the ABC, leaving the kids to play in the beer garden
buy a bigger aerial to try and pick up the signal from the Newcastle or Wollongong relay stations
forget the visuals, set up your radio and arrange the seating so even 'uncle bob' with his poor hearing, will be able hear Frank Hyde as he belts out 'its long enough, its high enough, it's ......away to the left!'
Media reports, in Newspapers and on TV & Radio, ran stories and interviews with the 100 or more fans who slept outside the SCG gates on Friday night, to be the first through the gates at 10.45am.
The last time Souths and St George met in a grand final was the mega-crowd match of 1965 when 78,056 paying customers took every vantage point to watch Saints win their 10th consecutive Grand Final. The NSWRL expect a crowd today of 65,000 and a record takings for a club match of over $51,000.
A photo on the front page of the Herald shows Saints vice-captain Billy Smith and Souths Captain John Sattler shaping up at a pre match publicity event staged by Grace Bros at Broadway.
I was surprised to see that the Grand Final story, took up just one quarter of the Sports page, while "the Guineas" - a horse race of some sort was the dominant story, with even the Premier Mr Askin offering his tip for the race.
As for who is expected to win, Alan Clarkson, senior League Writer at the Herald favours South Sydney but he might be wary of being too enthusiastic after he wrongly predicted a Manly win, last weekend.
"South Sydney should remain "pride of the League" by beating St George in the Rugby League grand final at the SCG today."
Interestingly, after all the pre-match prognostications from Manly Coach Ron Wiley, before last weeks' match, neither Souths mentor Clive Churchill nor Saints clipboard carrier Jack Gibson, are quoted for the match day story. Perhaps they fear offering their opponents any pre-match motivation - although a professional team, having fought all year to be one of the two teams on Grand Final day, should not need motivation from their opposing coach to go out and do their best.