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.