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The Sydney Morning Herald

APART FROM THE CANS, THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT IS ALIVE AND KICKING

Author: IAN HEADS
Date: 01/06/1988
Words: 814
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 53
One clear message to emerge from Tuesday night's gut-wrencher at Lang Park was that State of Origin football is alive and well - and likely to stay that way.

There were fears that the arrival of the Brisbane Broncos in Sydney's Winfield Cup would deflate the Origin concept because the Queensland players would become just too familiar to NSW fans and no longer the hated enemy.

But Tuesday's game was nerve-racking in its excitement and intensity, mixing the good, the bad and the ugly in such a way as to make sensational TV fare.

It was a flawed masterpiece, dotted with technical handling errors but played with a sustained fierceness that surely no other sport in the world could match.

Debates on its many aspects would have raged into the night:

*Wally Lewis's strutting, shouting and ultimately triumphant role in the proceedings. Lewis gave referee Mick Stone no peace, and the pressure showed in one poignant close-up as the TV camera zoomed in on Mick's strained and worried face.

*Steve Roach's felling of Bob Lindner.

*Garry Jack's tackle on Alan McIndoe.

*The brawl, and the hail of cans that followed.

*The touch judge's "out" ruling when Michael O'Connor dived for what seemed a fair try in the second half. I'd love to see that again. Unhappily, it wasn't replayed for viewers.

*The gory sight of Martin Bella soldiering on, bloodied but unbowed.

*Finally, Queensland's pluck against an excellent NSW side, which outgunned them for much of the night. In the championship-deciding minutes the Maroons came back and won.

Whether you liked Rugby League or not it was enthralling stuff, high drama of extraordinary quality.

But sadly, the ugly side of Australian sport emerged.

Drunken fans smeared the quality of a great contest with their dangerous barrage of cans in the second half.

Of course, it was nothing new at Lang Park where beer is consumed in vast quantities at the big games and where reasonable, intelligent behaviour has often gone out the window (ask Keith Holman who was pelted with hundreds of cans after he had refereed there one night).

Loutish, drunken behaviour putting so many people at risk of injury has no place in the professional world of modern Rugby League. I hope the Australian Rugby League presses on with its "ban the can" campaign at Lang Park.

Brian Batty, venerable vice-captain of the largest British press corps ever to accompany a touring team to Australia, likes what he sees in the 1988 Lions.

Batty, on his eighth tour to Australia, and the redoubtable Jack McNamara, on his umpteenth, are the senior members of a 16-man press party tracking the team through Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

McNamara, a puckish and much loved character from the Manchester Evening News, first toured here with the crack 1958 team.

Batty, from the Daily Mail, has been coming to Australia with British teams since 1970 - the year of the last Great Britain Ashes victory here.

After two weeks on the campaign trail through steamy Papua New Guinea and North Queensland Batty senses the emergence of something different in the orange juice-swilling '88 tourists.

"There is still an air of uncertainty about what lies ahead," Batty said yesterday before boarding the bus for Newcastle.

"But attitude and spirit couldn't be better. There is a sense of toughness and discipline about the team which stems from (coach) Mal Reilly."

Batty believes the key to success on the tour lies in the tourists getting their forward pack "right".

He regards the touring team as being very competitive in the backs, even though they have lost a string of top-liners - Steve Hampson, Des Drummond, Joe Lydon and Shaun Edwards - for a month at least.

He is sure new stars will emerge and tips Australian fans to look out for players such as Martin Offiah, the raw, exciting winger with a hunger for tries, and front-rower Hugh Waddell, a strong forward with a winning attitude who broke into Rugby League when he strolled into Blackpool Borough Club one day and asked for a game.

"(They are) a team that really wants to do well," Batty said.

"It's going to be an interesting tour."

 
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