The coming season promises to be a massive one as the Eels prepare to celebrate their 70th birthday. Here at TCT, our mantra has been to share Parramatta’s rich history and bright future with our readers. What better way to do so than by accessing the memories of fellow fans. Today, we’re proud to publish the first post from Parra Pete – a great supporter with a wealth of memories. We hope you enjoy it.
The sleeping giant of the then NSW Rugby League began to stir at the end of the fifties, and by 1962 – the giant finally opened its eyes, giving new hope and encouragement for a huge fan base in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Finally, after 14 years of no results, a glimmer of what was to become a powerhouse of Rugby League was appearing for Parramatta’s legion of supporters.
Jack Argent, the great Parramatta administrator – the man responsible for the Parramatta Leagues Club (aka The House that Jack Built) realised that for the Rugby League Club to be competitive, it needed to be able to compete on a level financial field.
The Club build up commenced in 1960, when Argent, who was Manager of the 1959-60 Kangaroos, signed Kangaroo centre Ron Boden to the Club for the 1960 season and beyond, and added Paul Pyers a goal kicking centre from Queensland.
The pair came into the side coached by South Sydney great Jack Rayner – and included ‘ageing’ stars like Martin Gallagher (ex Souths), winger Kevin Hole (ex St George) a strong front row of Roy Fisher, Billy Rayner, and Noel (Storky) Cornwall. Also in the line-up were two promising locally produced juniors, Robin Gair (half back) and Brian Cox (fullback) and hopes were high for a good season.
Trial form in the lead-up to the competition proper, was excellent – so much so that the Club was granted MATCH OF THE DAY status for the opening round against the mighty St George Dragons – a team laden with internationals – and four consecutive premierships behind it.
Fans turned up at the game full of anticipation and hope – but it took just ten minutes for the hopes to be dashed – with Paul Pyers having his jaw smashed in a high shot by Norm (Sticks) Provan, and going from the field. With no replacements in those days, Parra had to finish the match with 12 players and paid the price, going down 52 to 0
The dreams of a new beginning after impressive lead up form had been put back to bed, and it was not until round 11 that Parra was able to record its first victory of the season with a 15-7 result over South Sydney. Paul Pyers, who was in his second match back from his jaw injury, scored 10 of the team’s points with two tries and two conversions – tries being worth 3 points in those days.
The win was followed by three more losses, before the team managed its second win for the year – a six tries to two thumping of Canterbury at Cumberland, 30-18, with wingers Freddy Moore (3) and Kevin (Black) Hole among the try scorers, as well as new five-eighth Alan Elsworthy, who later coached in Bemboka on the South Coast,
The team finished with the wooden spoon, again, but the fans were enjoying the few and far between wins, and were starting to add much needed atmosphere to Cumberland Oval.
The old Oval had a speedway track with a high wooden fence around it. As a teenager, my friends and I enjoyed sitting, on the track, with our backs up against the fence.
We loved the Club, and it was great to run on the field at the end of the game and pat our heroes on the back, win lose or draw.
1961, again offered hope, with Ron Boden appointed Captain/coach.
The Club boosted its ranks with the signing of two players who were to become Club LEGENDS – Ron Lynch (from Forbes) and Brian (Grumpy) Hambly) on a two thousand five hundred pound ($5000) transfer fee from Wagga Magpies in the Riverina.
Brian was a current international, and one tough player. He was at home at any place in the pack, but in the early years played mainly second row, with the ‘tough as teak’ Roy Fisher, Billy Rayner. Storky Cornwall and Big Lindsay Armour sharing the front row engine room spots.
The Club also signed former Newtown players – goal kicking centre Kevin Considine and lock Peter Ryan but although being ‘handy players’ they were well past their prime.
Good news – and further hope for the future – was the success of the THIRD GRADE TEAM, which became the Club’s first ever grade team to figure in a semi final game.
The third grade team was Geoff Cooney, Maurie Burgmann, Rodger Ludkin, Keith Darwell, Jimmy Semmler, R (Ralph?) O’Leary.A (Alan?) Watkins (capt), Peter Matson, Johnny Gonzo, Jeff Beesley, Al Carroll and Warwick Randell, but lost to Manly 11-0.
The first grade team recorded just three wins for the year, and again finished with the wooden spoon – but the Club’s following was on the rise – and a golden era was about to emerge.
1962 – Was this true? Was legendary coach Ken (Killer) Kearney REALLY going to be coach. You bet it was…Killer had been a hugely successful Captain/coach with St George and had been replaced by Norm Provan.
Parramatta was quick to sign him.
Ken had played Rugby Union with Parramatta Two Blues before switching to Rugby League, and was part of the famous International front row from the Two Blues of Eric Tweedale, Ken Kearney and Len Wolfe.
Eric Tweedale had a bar named after him at Parramatta Stadium and is the Oldest Living Wallaby. (BTW – here is a handy snippet of information – I played Rugby Union with Merrylands in early sixties, and Mr Tweedale was our coach. Lovely man then, great man now)
Good news followed the signing of Ken Kearney –. Bob Bugden who had figured prominently in the Dragons run of premierships also came along with another Dragon, centre Geoff Weekes.
The Club added experienced prop Noel (Tombstone) Dolton from Newtown..Big Tombstone had been one of the Bluebags players on ‘strike’ at the time, and Parra was more than pleased to get him on board.
The Club also made a brilliant pick up in five-eight Leo Toohey from South Sydney at bargain price transfer fee of fifty pounds ($100).
Leo was purchased for ‘depth’.He was behind Robin Gair and Bobby Bugden in the pecking order for the halves. It took him seven games to crack a first grade spot, but when he did, he formed a great combination with Bugden.
Leo made his debut at the same time as the Club’s GREATEST EVER signing (in my opinion), the man who was to become known as The Mayor – Ken Thornett. They both played in First Grade for the first time at Leichhardt Oval against Balmain Tigers – and I was privileged to be part of the crowd on that day.
Leo added a spark to the attack – and well, Kenny Thornett – what can I say – “I have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”.
His presence at the back of the side, his mere physical presence – and his ability to catch and run the ball back at pace (and with the size of a prop), let everyone know on that day, that something special was about to happen. Something that would change the way we saw OUR football Club.
The Mayor was only with the Club for seven games that season, with a six wins and one draw record.
His influence on the side was enough to get it into the Top Four in First Grade for the first time EVER.
However, on his return to Leeds to see out the remainder of his Pommy contract, the team didn’t win another game that season.
Clive Crawley, Keith Griffiths, Paul Pyers and Brian Cox all had a crack at fullback in Ken’s absence – but they could not fill the void left by the Mayor.
Wests eliminated Parra from the final series with a 6-0 win in the semi-final, both Magpie tries scored by Gil Macdougall (father of Adam Macdougall).
Gil was an excellent centre, moving to the Magpies after playing with the Balmain Tigers.
One game that sticks out in my mind that season, was the game at Cumberland Oval when Parramatta, for one of the very few times in its history, toppled the mighty St George 19-8.
The match was played before a PACKED Cumberland crowd – a record number attended forcing an early closure of the gates. Ken Foord set the joint alight scoring a try from one of his trade mark interceptions, his pommy mate, flyweight Mike Jackson on the other wing also scored, before Brian Hambly crashed his way over to put the full stop on the result.
Second rower Peter Matson had a terrific day with the boot landing five goals (from all over the place) from his five shots.
It wasn’t a premiership, but the crowd reacted like it was.
The famous Parra, CLAP CLAP CLAP chant had the old grandstand rocking. The barracking caused the hairs on the back of the neck to stand on end, and the reception the team received at the sounding of the full time siren was something that I will never forget.
Amazing….it was enough to AWAKEN THE SLEEPING GIANT…
(to be continued)