Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean …

Rise in the heart and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy autumn fields,

And thinking of the days that are no more.

There weren’t any tears on the chilly September day at the SCG, as the old warriors assembled at the ground where the Rabbitohs and Roosters will play the first semi-final on Friday night.

After all, the Balmain reunion began days earlier when the players attended the captain’s run at Leichhardt Oval and then the game on Sunday afternoone, where Wests Tigers were beaten by the Sharks.

To some extent, the Leichhardt match, as well as Saturday’s Brookvale Oval semi-final between the Sea Eagles and the Sharks – the last of many successful games played at suburban grounds in 2019 – do remind us of “the days that are no more.”

Tiger tough: A Rabbitohs player is taken to ground in a full-blooded tackle during the 1969 grand final.Credit:Fairfax Media

David Trodden, the chief executive of the NSWRL, became a Tigers fan that September day a half century ago, when Balmain won that grand grand final.

“I thought anything was possible if you were born in Balmain,” Trodden said. “Two of the players in the team – Gary Leo and John Spencer – lived in east end Balmain. Dawn Fraser lived in Balmain. Dave Renneberg opened the bowling for Australia. Neville Wran was later to become Premier and Sir John Kerr, Governor General.

“Even Sydney’s top criminals – Lenny McPherson and Stan Smith- lived in Balmain. I thought being a Balmain boy allowed you to go where you wanted.”

Leo went to Fort Street Boys’ High School, a selective school, and scored A’s in the Leaving Certificate in Latin and French. A prop forward, he undermines the myth that front-rowers are dumb.

Norm Provan congratulates brother Peter after his man-of-the-match performance for Balmain.

Norm Provan congratulates brother Peter after his man-of-the-match performance for Balmain.Credit:Fairfax Media

He was also pivotal in the Tigers’ strategy of lying down and feigning injury to gain a rest, similar to Muhammad Ali’s rope-a dope tactics against George Foreman, which some would say is winning by doing nothing.

Well, that’s not true. Balmain scored the only try when winger Syd Williams (another Latin student, but only for one year) crossed the line.

And, as Leo says of the frustrating practice of halting momentum, “We had been doing it all season. We weren’t that strong in defence. There was a way to do it and not to do it. The same bloke didn’t go down all the time. We took turns.”

Leo recalls a comic occasion at Leichhardt Oval in a game against Canterbury when a prop, Terry Cross, was told to lie down.

Celebration: Post-match festivities at Balmain Leagues Club carried on long into the night.

Celebration: Post-match festivities at Balmain Leagues Club carried on long into the night.Credit:Fairfax Media

“’Go down’,” we told him. “He said, ‘But there’s nothing wrong with me’.

“We said, ‘We need a spell. Go down.’ So eventually, it got through to him and he went down on the ground. I walked over to the halves to work out what we were going to do next with the ball.


“I looked over to where the ‘injured’ player was supposed to being treated and he was being carried off on a stretcher. He obviously misunderstood what I meant.”

While today’s practice of wrestling in the tackle can be compared to Balmain’s lying down in that both are designed to give a team time to re-set, Leo argues there are significant differences.

“In our day, it was one-on-one tackling,” he said. “Today, there are three of four in a tackle and they slowly peel off. We tackled from chest down. Today, they tackle from chest up. That’s why you get those head clashes.”

As Monday’s lunch ended, news came through of the endorsement by the ARLC of its next chair, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys, and a reminder of the game’s historic problems with conflict of interest.

Shepherd, no stranger to conflicts of interest, being chair of both the Trust and the GWS Giants, was asked whether he saw any irony in hosting a team which wore black and gold while leading a semi-final team in another code whose colours are charcoal and orange.

“There’s not a ball sport on this earth I don’t love,” said Shepherd who is hoping this September is one he will long remember.

Most Viewed in Sport


Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here