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Sun-Herald

I'LL WALK OFF, SAYS REFEREE

Author: Jon Harker
Date: 25/09/1993
Words: 679
          Publication: The Sun Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 72
TWENTY years ago referee Keith Page threatened to walk off the field in the most violent of all grand finals.

But one man's poison can be another's wine. John O'Neill remembers that game as the best of all his grand final victories.

"Keith Page said: 'If you don't stop fighting I'm gunna walk off' but I just loved it. I enjoyed the bloody blues, mate."

O'Neill's vernacular is spot on - the grand final of 1973 was indeed bloody. Manly beat Cronulla 10-7, with Bob Fulton scoring two tries, but ask any one of the 52,044 fans at the ground what they remember and the answer is always the fight.

Renowned English strongman Malcolm Reilly was belted out of the game and as the fights went on little Tommy Bishop stirred the pot and then enlisted the aid of giant Cliff Watson.

Many of the former combatants gathered for lunch at Penrith during the week and Bishop's honesty stole the show.

Asked if the fight was his fault, he said: "Yes, I started it. It was planned. We figured it was the only way of winning."

O'Neill was in the thick of it all and for a while it seemed the teams would never get down to playing football. In 1973, if you weren't "softened up" after 20 minutes you were unconscious.

"That grand final was the hardest I'd played and for a while it was just open slather," O'Neill said. "While it was tough and hard the teams did settle down and played great football."

Fulton's tries are testament to that. The first - from a flick pass from veteran hooker Freddie Jones - was pure magic.

For O'Neill it was the last of his eight grand finals (seven in succession for six victories).

Now another dynasty is upon us. It's not Brisbane or St George. It's the man who may well prove the difference: Glenn Lazarus.

Only rugby league players - more to the point, props - can happily wear handles like "Lurch" and "The Brick" and the similarities between the two transcend the years.

Lazarus is the first man since O'Neill to play in five successive grand finals. O'Neill played his first five for South Sydney. He switched to Manly in 1972, transformed the Sea Eagles and they won their first premiership. Lazarus played his first three with Canberra, winning two. He switched to Brisbane and they won their first premiership.

To Brisbane "The Brick" is everything "Lurch" was to Manly and the Broncos believe he can carry them to another lap of honour. O'Neill agrees.

"I think they'll win, but the backs can't win it for them unless the forwards run straight," he said. "If your props run sideways the whole team runs sideways. Lazarus runs straight."

O'Neil played in the era through which the modern game emerged. He played grand finals under unlimited tackles, four tackles and six tackles.

He's certain Lazarus would have been a star in any company.

"He would have made it in any era. Beetson is the best prop I've seen, but Lazarus is as good as anyone else. He would have handled that '73 grand final."

NEWCASTLE coach David Waite has notified the NSW Rugby League of his disappointment about the poachers who moved in on young star Matthew Rodwell.

Although Rodwell had a year to run on his contract, his manager fielded three offers from clubs wanting the halfback to ask for a release.

"It's ludicrous when you can have a legal document with a player and his manager is getting offers from people telling him to break it," Waite said.

DON'T miss all today's grand final action on 2GB's big league with expert analysis from Phil Gould and Ben Elias. Also, Hollywood and I will announce the winner of the Subaru.

 
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