With thanks to Parra Pete, we continue with our 1960’s Eels history series.
The 1964 season was a season much anticipated by the parochial Parramatta faithful.
It was the third year under the regime of Ken (Killer) Kearney, and it was the first FULL season with the Mayor, Ken Thornett available from Round 1.
The brilliant custodian had completed his playing obligations to English Club Leeds, and returned to Parramatta after a successful tour of England and France with the 1963 Kangaroos.
Ken, brother Dick, and Brian Hambly were part of the Kangaroos, as was a smart Country centre from Lithgow, Barry (Bowser) Rushworth. Ron Lynch was a certainty to be on the tour, but was injured in a selection trial match (Possibles V Probables) on the afternoon of the day the team was announced. He suffered a broken collarbone, and as a result, Western Suburbs lock Kevin Smythe was named in the squad.
Could you imagine a Test selection trial being played nowadays on the eve of Touring team announcement? Nah, me neither.
The Club secured the signature of Rushworth for the season (Transfer fee 15 thousand pounds ($30,000) and he signed for five seasons. Parra also signed Featherstone Rovers pivot Ivor Lingard, adding yet another player with English experience to the line up.
The Parramatta backline had Lingard, Thornett, Hallas, and wingers Foord and Jackson who had all played top line football in England, while prop Billy McCall had a couple of seasons in the Old Dart as well.The signature of Lingard, however, meant that Parramatta relinquished the services of a super five eighth in Leo Toohey, who, in my opinion, was an integral part of the Parramatta team’s rise to prominence.
Leo was quickly snapped up by Canterbury Bankstown and had five seasons with the Berries, before moving to North Sydney Bears for another three years in 1969.
Parra had a wealth of talented forwards coming through the ranks ready to make their mark.
Long rangy second rower Barry Leaney – an airman based at Richmond RAAF base was a beauty and caught the eye early on with great form in the pre-season trials.
Barry had been regarded as the “best forward in Reserve Grade in 1963 – and his progression could not be held back for too long
The Club had other good forwards littered throughout its ranks and the fact that the Club had all three grades qualify for “top Four” spots in the previous two season, indicated that a premiership was well within the Club’s range.
With Alex Gilandis, Russell Johnstone, Billy Jones, Peter (Dutchy) Linde, Vic Collins, Vic Shrouda, Fred Baber – and throw in Kenny Cluff, and experienced blokes like Matty Johnson there was plenty of depth in the forwards.
A couple of the lower graders that impressed my mates and I were third grade fullback John Wicks, who was a fine attacking player with a huge sidestep, Garry McCalla and Ernie Gillon a sharp scrum base combination, winger John Cox (or was it Jim Cox) who could dart along.
There was another Jones boy – Michael – not sure if it was 64, 65, 66 that he debuted, but he was a good second rower also with a good step and pace to go on with it.
Billy Jones was a hooker, with the size of a prop, and he was used more as a front rower than a rake
Coach Kearney told The Daily Mirror at the start of the 1964 season “We’ll kill ’em”
That is how Parramatta’s first grade coach and sole selector predicted the 1964 premiership.
The Mirror article said “Killer” Kearney, the coach who launched St George on a eight-year reign is planning a coup d’etat .
He aims to give League a new King.
And Parramatta, he claims, is the heir apparent.
The article went on to sing the praises of the Parramatta experienced players.
“I coached Saints for three years before they captured the title.
“This is my third term with Parra, so I am forecasting the club’s first premiership .
Killer’s prophesy started off in great fashion with a thumping of Canterbury Berries at Cumberland Oval.
Parramatta crossed for five tries to nil, Ronny Lynch, back to full match condition after recovering from the injury that cost him a place in the Kangaroos’ touring party, crossed for two tries, while Barry Rushworth and Barry Leaney, both on debut managed to cross along with Bobby Bugden, but the surprise of surprises was prop Brian Hambly landing five goals from five attempts. It added another string to Grumpy’s bow as he had not, to my knowledge, kicked for the Club before that game.
The team was given Match of the Day status in round 2, playing Balmain Tigers at SCG, and despite scoring two tries to nil, lost the match 12-8 with all the Tigers points coming from the boot of “Old Tin Legs” Keith Barnes who booted six goals from six shots – and there were not too many better kickers in those days than Barnsey, a toe poker who never had a problem with distance.
Give away a penalty anywhere in your own half and Keith was a good chance to punish you for it.
Barnes was slight in build, and took to the field week in week out wearing more bandages than an Egyptian mummy – but he was brave, and he was tough – and well deserving of the “legend status” he carried in TigerTown.
The loss to the Tiges caused the team to re-focus. Ref-focus it did. The team strung together an incredible run of victories to surge to the top of the ladder, and look certain to be minor premiers.
The Club started an unbeaten run of 12 straight wins with a 30-15 victory over Manly at Brookvale on April 18.
Clive Churchill, writing for the Sunday Mirror penned an article with the headline ” Parramatta Look like League Premiers” – writing “Even with five club rounds and the finals to go, I’m ready to lay a few small bets that Parramatta will end up as 1964 Rugby League Premiers,
“I’m basing my prediction on form – and the undeniable fact that many of the St George stars are becoming leg weary from too much football”
The old adage, don’t knock champions, and never count your money while you’re sitting at the table was starting to rear its ugly head.
After the article the team hit the wall , and on July 19 it was a surprise loser to South Sydney in a try-less match 6-2 with Teddy Lawler- the son of former top referee ( albeit a controversial one) Darcy Lawler kicking three goals for the Rabbits.
A following loss to Wests at Pratten Park18-8, and then a thumping at the SCG 36-0 to St George team that displayed no signs of :leg weariness”
Dick Huddart, the great Pommy forward declared after the match, after playing a starring role for the Dragon “Equal to St Helens'”
Talking to The Sunday Mirror’s Peter Muszkat he compared the St George team to the all conquering St Helen’s combination of 1958 which scored 1005 points in 36 games.
“I wouldn’t like to say which team was better, but both are the best I have ever seen”, Huddart said.
Parra lost Brian Hambly after 14 minutes with a shoulder injury, and Billy Rayner at half time with a suspected broken shoulder.
The team bounced back in the final round to beat Newtown Bluebags 22-2 at Cumberland and wrap up second position on the competition ladder – its highest position in the Clubs 18 year history.
The Club played St George again in the major semi-final and had no answer to the Dragons going down 42-0 in a one sided match.
The following week in the preliminary final the Balmain Tigers ended Parra’s premiership hopes, winning 16-7. Parra’s line up for the final was Ken Thornett, Ken Foord, Brian Cox, Barry Rushworth, Mike Jackson, Ivor Lingard, Bob Bugden, Ron Lynch (Capt) Barry Leaney, Dick Thornett, Billy Jones, Billy Rayner, Brian Hambly. Brian Cox, injured replaced by Kerry Burke.
The Reserve grade reached the semi-final to be beaten 14-0 by Souths, with a future international in Gary Stevens playing a blinder for the winner.
However, the third grade belted the North Sydney Bears 27-2, eliminated Souths 17-9 in the final and then triumphed over St George 14-4 in the Grand Final for the CLUB’s first EVER PREMIERSHIP.
1964 was the year Parramatta became the first CLUB side to play a visiting “international’ side. The South Africans came to Australia for a couple of ‘unofficial” Test matches, and lined up against Parra at Cumberland Oval on a Wednesday afternoon..I took a half day’s leave from work to be at the game.
The Springboks side included players from other NSWRL teams like hooker Fred Anderson (South Sydney) and Graham Wilson (Newtown) who were made ‘honorary South Africans” for the tour to give the side experience. From memory South African born, Fred Griffiths (North Sydney) and Alan Skene (Souths) and Colin Greenwood (North Sydney) were included. Skene and Griffiths DEFINITELY played, but I am not sure on Greenwood.
Believe it or, the match was played on the Wednesday BEFORE the 1964 preliminary final against Balmain,,The Club’s most important game in its history..Again, could you imagine it happening today????
The side also had a successful STATE CUP campaign – winning its way into the Grand Final against a very strong Newcastle Division team (CRL based). The match was played in Newcastle and I was one of the many supporters who travelled to the game on a Special STEAM train to Newcastle for the game.
Newcastle had a very strong team, which, again from memory contained internationals Jim Morgan, Alan Thomson, Alan Buman, Terry Pannowitz – centres Dave Brown who later played with St George, and Bob Moses who was a good player for South Sydney.
Five-eighth was Gerry Edser who Parramatta signed in 1965.
Newcastle regularly defeated touring National sides – and was always ‘thereabouts” in the CRL Divisional Championships.
Rugby League was STRONG right through NSW at the time – with skilled players, and tough players – littered right through the bush.
Newcastle was a very professionally run division, and many years later (late 70s) I had the opportunity to meet some giants of the Newcastle administration team as a Conference delegate to the CRL . Blokes like JJ (Mo) Wilson, Dave Moreland and Jimmy Hattam were outstanding administrators, wonderful orators, and passionate about the code. They made a huge impression on me, and were a big influence in my future in administration of local bush Rugby League here in my ‘home town’ of Hay.
They were fiercely proud of the competition they had in Newcastle, its depth, and the quality of players involved. Initially, this trio fought very hard to preserve the competition they had, and resist any moves to expand into the NSWRL.
I have a very good friend, Bobby Lee, who was part of the 1964 Third Grade squad, and also the State Cup Final squad and he sent me a copy of the invitation he received in 2004 to the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Premiership win.
Bob is a great bloke who is in a nursing home on the Gold Coast. He always ‘perks up’ when his Rugby League days are discussed.
He has appeared in movies – playing bit parts in Alvin Purple – as well as many TV Commercials.
(I wrote an article on Bobby for my local Club website and if you want to have a look here is the link
At the end of the season, Secretary Spencer O’Neill aptly summed the season when he said in his Annual Report “Season 1964, I feel sure, will never be forgotten for many years hence. All club records were broken both on the playing field and financially. Attendances at club matches exceeded all previous years, especially home matches; attendances for the year totalled 376,659. This eclipsed the previous year’s figures by about 2000.
1964 could be classed as “So near, yet so far”. The First grade team was terrific in the “home and away series” but reserved their worst performances until the semi and preliminary finals…
To be continued