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Players of yesteryear weren't angels

Dwarf burning and penis biting are new forms of behaviour as the football seasons come to a close, but the other big news this week - an alleged cover-up by a Canterbury official - is not.

Todd Greenberg's denials that domestic violence was an issue in the Bulldogs' standing down of troubled fullback Ben Barba earlier this year has become an issue in his new position as the NRL's head of football.

Yet, as Greenberg faces possible sanctions as Mad Mondays and end-of-season trips loom, if we want evidence past Canterbury officials ignored the obvious, or that yesterday's players were no better behaved, look back to 1947, rugby league's annus horribilis.

No one lit the shirt of a dwarf - as a player from AFL club St Kilda did this week - nor bit a penis, as is alleged to have occurred in a Queensland league game, but the grandfathers of today's players weren't angels.

The day after Canterbury's 13-9 defeat by Balmain in the 1947 grand final, the team travelled to Brisbane, Barba's new home, for three exhibition matches. The first game was to be on the Monday evening (September 22) against Combined Brisbane at the Exhibition Ground. That morning, each player was given £5 by club management. They formed a two-up school and drank heavily.

Shortly after the 8pm kick-off, played under lighting, Canterbury captain Henry Porter was sent off. Brisbane led 30-2 at half-time, and the fullback, Dick Johnson, was unable to return for the second half and was taken back to his hotel.

The final score was 60-2 and NSWRL president Jersey Flegg threatened life disqualification for any player found to have played while drunk. Canterbury president Barney Russell blamed the poor handling on a slippery football and the lighting - playing under electric lighting was a new experience for his team.

Russell attacked the media: ''Published reports [of intoxication] are 'hooey'. Too many people are keen to poke their noses into other people's business. They will regret this.''

However, two fellow officials were more circumspect. Coach Ross McKinnon resigned, stating he was ''thoroughly disgusted with the behaviour of the team''.

Team manager H.Culbert admitted: ''Unconsciously we may have contributed to the trouble on the morning of the match when each player was given five pounds and I think this may have been the genesis of the trouble.''

Culbert was a slow learner. He had been manager of the NSW team two months earlier when the Blues were beaten 22-10 in Brisbane. At 3.30am, when most of the team returned to their headquarters at the Hotel Daniel, they went to the bedrooms of three sleeping players and began wrestling.

Beds were broken, four rooms and a corridor damaged, mattresses torn apart, mosquito nets ripped up, furniture smashed and fire extinguishers sprayed.

The owner of the hotel, Mr Fitzgibbon, woke the team managers, Jack Neill and Culbert, and ordered the entire squad leave immediately. The porter confirmed he witnessed the rampage, but, too terrified, refused to identify the culprits. A bill for £118 was later presented to the NSWRL at a time £7 was the average weekly wage.

The NSWRL cited six players and the referee, George Bishop, who was staying at the same hotel. Bishop's sin? He refused to blow the whistle on the players, declining to speak when forced to appear before the NSWRL general committee.

A frustrated secretary of the NSWRL, George Ball, declared: ''The management committee was met by a complete wall of silence.''

However, when it came to disciplining Canterbury players for their drunken play in the post grand final Brisbane match, the evidence was stronger.

The Brisbane Rugby League provided the NSWRL with a report, stating Canterbury players made ''wild grabs at the ball'', ''ran erratically'' while ''indiscriminately tackling their own players as well as the opposition.''

BRL president A.Welsh declared: ''It is the biggest blow the game has received since the inception of the Brisbane Rugby League in 1922''.

Canterbury were ordered to donate the £278 it received from the gate to the Brisbane City Mission.

Fullback Johnson, who denied being drunk, stated that he came off at half-time because he was suffering malaria.

The NSWRL suspended him and reserve grade hooker R.Baxter until July 31, 1948.

It cost Johnson, who was the NSW fullback, selection in the 1948 Kangaroos touring team. He said, ''I have been rail-roaded and made a scapegoat by the NSWRL administration'', a protest that has echoed down the ages.

2 comments so far

  • Thanks Roy, I am not defending the actions of the modern player but I honestly believe that in general their actions are better than those 30 or more years ago.

    Commenter
    bultitude
    Location
    bexley
    Date and time
    September 06, 2013, 6:58AM
    • Great article Roy about times in the 40's . Naughty boys .. ! Maybe you could give us an insight into your time as coach at Wests in the 70's .. ? Wadda ya rekon Roy .. ?

      Commenter
      bbadman
      Location
      mascot
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 3:13PM

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