The journey back in time for Eels fans continues as Parra Pete delves into the 1965 season. Here’s Part 4 of his Eels History series (check out the great old newspaper clippings):
The powerbase of Rugby League throughout Australia, New Zealand, England and France began to move in a different direction in the early years of the sixties.
The game had been strong in England where it was based around big, tough and skilful forwards, and where sailing close to the wind in aggression was never a problem. England had some wonderful ball players with blokes like Brian McTigue able to create openings and opportunities for smart running forwards like the very mobile Dick Huddart
The 1963 Kangaroo team created history by being the first Australian team to win the Ashes against England, on English soil.
The Poms were the bench mark of World Rugby League before that series loss – with some of the best and toughest players ever to pull on the boots in its ranks.
Blokes like Neil Fox and his bother Don, Eric Ashton, David Bolton, Alex Murphy, Vince (The Wild Bull of the Pampas) Karalius, Mike Sullivan, Rocky Turner, Dick Huddart, Ken Gowers, Billy Sayer, and Cliff Watson were in the Lions team – to name just a few – and those players would have been champions in any era.
Alex Murphy, the St Helens legend loved a stoush, but boy he could play.
Parramatta tried to sign Neil Fox to its roster, but a huge transfer fee was a stumbling block. The Eels offered Wakefield Trinity twelve thousand five hundred pounds ($25000) but it was knocked back..Lot of money in 1965…
I looked up details of the 63-64 tour just to refresh my memory.
The Australian Kangaroos had some great players also – Kenny Thornett at fullback, Ken Irvine and Peter Dimond on the wings, Reg Gasnier and Changa Langlands in the centres, a tough pivot Earl Harrison from Gilgandra, Queensland ‘tough man”Barry Muir (a Tommy Raudonikis style half back, who replaced injured Arthur Summons in the three Tests), Johnny Raper locking the scrum, Dick Thornett and Brian Hambly in the back row, with Noel Kelly, Ian Walsh and Peter Gallagher in the engine room. It was a great series, Australia winning two Tests to one.
The Lions put in a much improved performance at Headingley in Leeds. The Rugby Football League had appointed “Sergeant Major” Eric Clay as the referee for the game. The two sides set about settling scores and the Australians felt Clay was biased.
It is considered was one of the most brutal Tests ever played, with two Australians (Barry Muir and Brian Hambly) and one British player (Cliff Watson) being sent off. Muir who was sent off (for kicking) later told that he first told Clay “where to go” as he left the field, and later approached Clay after the game and said to him “You robbed us”. According to Muir, Clay reportedly responded with “Barry, I’ve got to live here”
Ken Irvine, who scored Australia’s only try for the match, became the first Australian to score a try in each test of an Ashes series.
There was no television coverage, but it was exciting to sit up and listen to broadcast of the Tests from England by noted commentators Tiger Black (2KY) Frank Hyde (2SM) and John O’Reilly (ABC) -they called it ‘like it is’, with plenty of colour and it was exciting times to be a young Rugby League fan.
The international matches received excellent coverage from noted Rugby League writers like George Crawford, E E (Ernie) Christensen, Bill Mordey, Alan Clarkson, and Peter Frilingos. Those blokes added so much to the match reports, and were of the highest quality in their reports.
(BTW I knew both Clarko and Peter Frilingos. Alan was a regular attendee at CRL Annual conferences and I got to know him pretty well. Another great writer of Rugby League was Jimmy Huxley – and Jim became a very good friend, and I learned a lot from him. Jim was a ‘great contact for me to have for my Country League articles published in the Sunday Telegraph and Rugby League Week)
Back to the Eels.
1965 heralded in another new era with the MAYOR Ken Thornett appointed Captain/coach of the first grade side to replace Ken Killer Kearney at the helm.
Killer had done a wonderful job in his three seasons – taking the Club from wooden-spooners for six consecutive seasons, to a preliminary final with the First Grade side, and all three teams making the ‘top four’ for three seasons in a row.
He had prodded the giant out of its slumber, and given the people of the West, teams and a Club they could follow with pride “and brag about the exploits’ with other followers of teams in the strong competition.
Ken Thornett knew he was stepping into a big pair of shoes as a replacement for one of the most successful premiership coaches in the codes’s history. Could he continue to be the Club’s saviour and transfer his brilliance into the Club’s ‘mentoring role’ ? Parramatta fans mouth watered with anticipation.
Pre-season, Ken told George Crawford of the Sunday Telegraph that he planned to transform the Parramatta team.
He said that he will develop an open attacking game instead of Parramatta’s old hard grinding down-the-middle stuff.
The Telegraph article said “Thornett’s appointment as captain-coach is one of the most interesting points of the preparation for the 1965 season.
“These days when the Australian League Board of control prefers to give the captain full charge of representative teams, Thornett could well become the Test captain if he has quick success with Parramatta”.
“Thornett’s ideas are based on the technique of the English Club Leeds.
“He played a major role at full-back when Leeds won the English championship in 1961.
He said yesterday, “The game I plan to develop is based on quick clearance from the rucks.”
“I don’t want the ball passing through three or four forwards. I want one pass straight to the inside backs”
Parramatta prop Noel Dolton moved to English Club Wakefield Trinity, with Dick Thornett the most likely replacement in the front row.
The Club added quality to the side with the signing of Queensland winger Arch Brown, an accomplished goal kicker to solve one of the Club’s ‘nagging problems”.
Others to come into the Club were former Wallaby Ted Heinrich, a former Union team mate at Randwick of both the Thornett brothers, and Gerry Edser, a crack five-eighth who had starred for Newcastle in its State Cup win in 1964
There was some talk of the third Thornett – older brother John – joining the Club, but he resisted all overtures to remain as a ‘rah rah’ and led the Wallabies in Tests against South Africa and British Lions, and in all played 137 matches for the Wallabies in a career that lasted from 1955-1967.
The season started with a 9 all draw with Newtown Bluebags, at Cumberland Oval – the team losing Brown at half time with a thigh injury. Both sides scored a try a piece with Arch Brown landing three first half goals before being replaced.
Jim Poulos, in his first grade debut, had a chance to kick the team to victory after the full time siren, but the easy shot swung away at the last minute.
In all Parra kickers missed with seven shots at goal in the second half – all well within kicking range.
The season started gloomily with further successive losses to North Sydney, St George, Souths, and Wests before posting a 19-11 victory over Canterbury at Cumberland to get its first win of the new competition. By then it was languishing in last spot, and fans were starting to despair.
However that victory started a winning sequence with wins over Manly, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Newtown, North Sydney, before going down narrowly to StGeorge 18-10, and 2-0 to South Sydney on a boggy Sydney Sports Ground.
The Rabbits had a mighty pack which included up and coming stars like Jimmy Morgan, John O’Neill, John Sattler, Bobby McCarthy, Ron Coote and Garry Stevens waiting in the wings
I remember Kevin Longbottom landing a huge penalty kick for the Rabbits just after half time for the only points of the match. Lummy was a big bloke and could kick a long range goal.
The report of the game in the Sunday Telegraph said “In the heat of hard hitting exchanges referee Col Pearce issued 14 cautions”….No sin bin in those days, and no beg pardons in an era which ‘anything goes”…
After the successive losses, the team regrouped winning its final five matches to grab third spot on the ladder just behind second placed North Sydney to claim a spot in the finals for the fourth straight year.
The team went into the semi against Souths full of confidence, but the young Rabbitohs were on the cusp of a great era and won comfortably 17-2. Souths had a welter of outstanding players on the way up – players who would go on and become household names.
Arch Brown set a Club record, becoming the first Parramatta player since Brian Jones in 1955 (109 points) to crack the century, posting 131 from 5 tries 58 goals.
Parramatta again made the final of the State Cup, but victory again eluded it, going down to Wests 16-14 at Cumberland. Parra had beaten Western Division and St George on its way to the final.
My passion for the Parramatta Club had me write a Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph
During the season, Cricketer Sid Barnes wrote a column for the Sunday Telegraph, and he was always relentless in his criticism of Parramatta and its results. My letter said:
I note with a great deal of interest that your sports columnist Sid Barnes has been very quiet lately about his biased and uncalled for attacks on the Parramatta Rugby League side.
Mr Barnes was very quick to criticise and ridicule this team early in the season when coach K Thornett was trying to transform from mainly a bash and barge side to a side that plays open football.
This transformation took a few games which Parramatta lost, but now the transformation has been completed and the side has emerged as a distinct premiership threat, Sidney seems lost for words.
Mr Barnes should stick to the topics on which he is more informed and should not blatantly attempt to degrade things about which he knows nothing, or very little –
P C Montgomery
Adah Street Guildford
The Sunday after the letter was published, Sid dedicated the whole of his column “Like it or Lump it” answering my letter and laying into me..
“Mr P C Montgomery of Adah Street Guildford, and an understandably partisan Parramatta supporter accused me of being “lost for words”
Never Monty Never.
Your complaint is that I never paid tribute to the recovery staged by Parramatta after having ‘ridiculed the team early in the season.
Ridicule- a piece of derisive mirth or light mockery – that’s what my dog-eared dictionary calls it
There was nothing akin to mirth or light mockery in my early season comment on the split in the Parramatta Club which nearly ruined Ken Thornett’s coaching plans with the Club, with a team playing like a conglomerated spare parts.
Neither was it uncalled for, it was not biased, and it was something I knew about.
I went into bat for Ken Thornett before the season started – when he had won the captain-cpach job with a group of players voting against him
Do you think I just guessed that something was wrong at Parramatta?
Do you think I just made it up or wouldn’t it be more logical to assume that someone with the welfare of the club at heart had enlisted my aid.
Don’t you think that bringing the matter out in the open may have helped eventually to restore harmony between the two very divided cliques which nearly wrecked Parramatta at the start of the season.
He went on to say that he didn’t regard Parramatta as a premiership treat to St George distinct or otherwise, finishing with….
Parramatta couldn’t beat St George, even if it armed its forwards with pick handles, and its backs with pogo-sticks.
No hard feelings I hope….
The reply holds pride of place in my “Memories”, but the item is in very fragile condition now….lol
Goes to show that bickering and power plays are not just a ‘thing’ of the modern era….
Images courtesy of Parra Pete and the Internet.