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
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
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
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
*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
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."