With thanks to Parra Pete, we continue with our 1960s Eels history series.
The 1963 season was history making, with the club continuing to build in strength. A super signing of the great Dick Thornett, a younger brother of the Mayor, brought to the Club a player who not only had pace and size, but also a player who could create opportunities for his team mates with his great vision and ability to ‘spot a hole’ in the defence.
The Club also attracted the services of an experienced and attacking centre by luring former Eastern Suburbs star Bill Roney into the Club, and former English Test centre Derek Hallas who had played with Ken Thornett at Leeds and was a dual international having played Union and League in Old Dart.
Derek Hallas was a straight running centre – tough as teak – and had the whitest legs of any player EVER to play on Cumberland Oval.
The Club also ‘sneakily’ signed Ron Willey to a two year deal, pinching him from under the noses of Wenthworthville – a Second Division powerhouse with its sights on joining the big boys (along with Penrith and Cronulla).
Ron only played seven games for the Parra during his two year tenure, before retiring from playing and moving into a successful coaching career in the NSWRL, guiding Manly to its first ever premiership, and NSW to a clean sweep in SOO series in 1986.
He was a ‘fire and brimstone’ coach, a bit like Roy Masters, “Do whatever it takes to win”.
Ron was part of the side that defeated South Africa at Cumberland Oval in 1963, and was also part of the side beaten by Newcastle in the final of the first ever STATE CUP competition.
(Incidentally, in 1964 Wenty overcame the disappointment of missing out on Willey by signing the legendary Welsh Wizard Lewis Jones as five-eighth and coach – and what a sensation he was at the Magpies).
I was at both games (V South Africa at Cumberland) on a Wednesday arvo, and was on the special Steam Train (in 1964) for supporters that travelled to Newcastle for the State Cup final.
Parramatta put the league world on notice, by winning its four pre-season matches in the newly organised Wills Cup competition and making the Grand Final against St George, but alas went down 8-3 at the Old Sports Ground in a match played in heavy conditions.
Again hopes of a break through season were high, but the Club was brought back to earth with another embarrassing thumping by St George in a “Match of the Day” at the SCG.
But the fans knew the return of Ken Thornett from his stint with Leeds would soon lead the team out of the wilderness.
The team bounced back from that first round thumping to topple Canterbury12-10 at Cumberland Oval in front of the Eels’ parochial fans, and then made a winning return to the SCG to beat Balmain Tigers 16-9, with Ken Foord AGAIN scoring from an intercept.
Manly scored an upset 13-8 win at Cumberland next match, but the re-appearance of Ken Thornett at the next home game saw the fans flock back to the dust bowl in large numbers as the Messiah scored a try – and everything was right with the world.
The Mayor had still not tasted defeat in any of his appearances with Parra..The team had a good win over Wests 15-4 next game at SCG.(The team had the wood on the Magpies in the early sixties.)
The clash of the forward packs highlighted the games. Wests had blokes like Noel Kelly, Jack Gibson, Denis Meaney (by name and nature) Jimmy Cody, big Kel O’Shea and Kevin Smythe. Out in the backs they had Artie Summons, Peter Dimond – a bloke as scary as he looked – Dave Barsley (a player the Club tried to sign many times) and Johnny Mowbray (both speedsters), centres Bob McGuinness and Gilbert MacDougall and an international fullback in Don Parish. A bloody good team, but Parra ALWAYS seemed to have the Magpies measure.
The North Sydney Bears – toppled Parramatta at North Sydney Oval winning 18-10. I was at the game and remember it well. It was drizzling rain, and the Bears South African Fullback Fred Griffiths gave the team a lesson in wet weather football, scoring a try, setting one up for the brilliant Ken Irvine, and banging over 6 goals from as many attempts.
(He was a good player the man known as Paunchy. He later moved bush and coached Griffith Waratahs to its first ever Group 20 premiership in 1966 and I saw him play several times for the Tahs)
The old Newtown Bluebags made it two losses in a row, beating Parra 5-4 at Cumberland. The Bluebags had a good side, with stalwarts like Bobby Keyes, Chicka Moore, Tony Brown, Dudley (Martello) Towers, Clarrie Jefferies, Graham Wilson and a fine attacking fullback in Ronny Wright.
I loved watching Newtown play. Like Parra, the Bluebags were ‘battlers’ who gave their all each and every game.
A funny story about the international five eighth, Tony Brown..A good player and a snappy dresser. He toured with the 59-60 Kangaroos and had Ron Boden as his room mate. They were both the same size. The story goes that Ron turned up for the tour with the clothes he was wearing, a QANTAS bag, his football boots, a pair of shorts, a pair of thongs, and a couple of pairs of underwear.
He waited until Tony went out, and then helped himself to his clothes – earning a reputation as the ‘second snappiest dresser in the squad”.
I spoke to Ronny about it a couple of years ago when he was in a pub in Sydney with several members of the 1959 Kangaroo squad..My son was the licensee, and he rang me to tell me they were in his bar having a sort of a reunion with those still alive.
I asked Ron about it and he laughed his head off….
My son looked after the boys and really enjoyed the yarns they were telling. Chook Raper appreciated the service Mick gave them, and next day, dropped back into the pub, and gave him a St George legends jumper – signed by Reg Gasnier, Chook and Changa (RIP Reg and Ron).. I have the jumper here at home and it is a treasured piece of memorabilia.
The clashes between Parra and Canterbury were always classics especially the match up between the full backs Ken Thornett, and the ‘new kid on the block’ Les Johns.
(The Canterbury side contained a young bloke from a footballing family from Tumbarumba – Kevin Goldspink.
I first met Kevin at NSW Leagues Club in 1980. I was at a CRL Conference as a delegate, he was at a Kangaroo Re-union and was with another former international centre Johnny Rhodes. I had a round with Goldy and John and we went separate ways.
A year later (1981) Kevin and his wife Ann, took over a leasehold of a Hotel in Hay. Four years later, Kevin and Ann and my wife and I purchased the freehold of the pub, built a 12 unit Motel, and stayed in partnership for 22 years before we sold the Motel (1997) and the Pub (2005).
Kevin has the great Rugby League background – a vast circle of friends – and he introduced me into that circle – and I loved being a part of it. Many have remained friends, and I owe a lot of my love of the game to that mighty bloke – Kevin Goldspink)
Back to 1964. The three Parramatta grade teams were on target to make the semi-finals..ALL THREE….This proved that Killer Kearney was being successful in molding a strong unit together – A club with depth right through its ranks.
The first grade side needed to win its final three games of the season to qualify – two at Cumberland, and the other at Henson Park.
Wins over North Sydney 10-3 at Cumberland, followed by a comfortable 21-5 victory over Newtown, set the scene for block busting decider.
They had a scare against Souths at Cumberland, with Dick Thornett scoring a last minute try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat to win 9-7 and gain a spot in the semis for the second straight year.
The success of the season was further boosted with the Reserve Grade and Third Grade (open age then) qualifying for the finals.
Parramatta fans could sense something bigger was about to explode.
The first grade won its way into a preliminary final with an amazing 9-7 win over Balmain Tigers in the elimination semi final at the SCG.
I can see it clearly now, as I did on the day.
Down 7-4, Bobby Bugden had a shot a goal to narrow the gap. The shot hit the upright and rebounded into the arms of Ron Lynch following through and he plunged over under the sticks.My mates and I were sitting behind the goal-posts in the Sheridan Stand and we went absolutely ‘mental’ with excitement.
The following week, Wests pulled off an upset to defeat St George and be the first team into the decider.
I believed then, as I still do to this day, that Parra would have beaten Wests and then go on to play St George in the Grand Final..
But alas it was not to be. The Dragons, with seven premierships in a row behind them, were up for the game – and despite Mike Jackson crossing for a try early, the brilliance of Reg Gasnier – the best centre I have ever seen, btw – proved to be the difference. Puff crossed for two tries, with fellow Immortal Graeme Langlands landing five goals – many as a result of scrum penalties – the Dragons won the game 12-7.
The Reserve Grade and Third Grade teams were also eliminated from the finals with defeats in their games….BUT things were starting to look up.
(Just as an aside, I met Reg Gasnier in 1981 in Canberra. He was working as a TV Commentator with Alan Marks with ABC. I was Co-Manager of the Country team that played City at Bruce Stadium – Peter Sterling’s first rep game, as a replacement in City Seconds. I caught up with him in Brisbane in 2004 and had a great yarn to him. A wonderful man, a credit to Rugby League.)
Images accessed from Parra Pete, Manning River Times and the Internet