1968 Rugby League Champions

Trophy

In 1968, the Ashfield De La Salle open age rugby league team proved themselves to be the best schoolboy side in Australia by winning the State All Schools Knockout and then going on to easily account for the champion Queensland schoolboys side. I was a part of that team.

The ARL (Australian Rugby League) introduced the annual All Schools Knockout competition in 1947.  At that stage of New South Wales rugby league history, many of the strongest teams came from country areas, and the majority of Knockout winners were country schools, mostly Catholic, with deep rugby league roots. In 1968 the short-priced favourites for the title were Marist Brothers’ College Forbes, a team that had remained unbeaten in their 42 previous games. But they came across an “Ashy” team with an equally impressive record. In those days we played in two separate competitions. On Thursday afternoons we played in a Catholic Colleges competition, and on Saturdays Ashfield De La Salle took on all-comers in the Western Suburbs junior competition. The same group of guys played together from the first year of high school till Sixth Form. We won every title from Under 13’s onwards.

The team boasted some outstanding individual players, notably Greg Purcell (who went on to play First Grade at Canterbury), the brilliant Adrian Lane-Mullins who my father described as the best schoolboy footballer he’d seen since Johnny Raper, Terry Connolly, Rod Burke, Kevin Fidock (who went on to play first grade with three clubs), Mick McCarthy and big Michael McIvor. I was but a humble second-rower who could tackle a bit, just lucky enough to be part of this talented group. In the preceding years we were coached by Brother Pascal (Hagerty) whose knowledge of the game and man-management skills were second to none. Our coach in 1968 and, therefore, the teacher who took us to the championship, was Br. Gerard (John Channels). The team operated from an incredible sense of "school spirit" which was inspired and fostered by sport in general and the dedication, direction and compassionate leadership of the De La Salle Brothers in general but particularly by the strong leadership and guidance of Br. Peter McIntosh who was principal for most of our high school years.

The Knockout finals were held on a Friday, so we had the entire day off school. Wearing the Black and White jumpers of the Western Suburbs Magpies, we won our early games fairly comfortably. Our stiffest opposition came in the semi-finals when we met Marist Brothers North Shore. They gave us a real run for our money and were led by a very tough and talented second-rower who went on to play first grade for North Sydney. That was played at the Sydney Sports Ground and the win put us into the grand final against the favourites at the Sydney Cricket Ground. There were about 500 people in the stands, including representatives from most of the Sydney first grade clubs.

Forbes boasted a young fullback who would go on to play for Australia – Chris Anderson. I remember clearly following through a kick and tackling him as hard as I could. The cheeky little thing got up and punched me. The Forbes team were so confident that their unbeaten record would be maintained that they seemed almost cocky. They were in disbelief when the final siren sounded with Ashfield leading 7-5. Our only try was scored by centre Terry Connolly, while our captain, Greg Purcell, kicked two well-deserved penalty goals.

The championship trophy was presented to us by Dave Brown, still considered one of the game’s best wingers and known in his day as “the Bradman of league” for his record-breaking try-scoring feats.. Each player was presented with a NSW Rugby League badge. Weeks later, after being individually measured up by a tailor, we were also presented with blue and white striped jackets, courtesy of the Canterbury Football club. I’m sure all players, like me, still have those jackets hanging their wardrobes.

But the greatest reward was a trip to Queensland to take on their champion schoolboy side at Lang Park in Brisbane. We stayed at the De La Salle Retreat House at Southport, where we had also stayed in the preceding May school holidays in a training camp in preparation for the season. The bonding we did during those weeks made us all even closer. Br. Andrew (Bill Firman) accompanied Br. Gerard as a fitness coach. The final score was something like 28-0, our way. Athletic front-rower, Rod Burke, who was one of the fastest players in the team, scored four tries that day. It was a glorious end to my schoolboy rugby league career. No games I played after that were nearly as enjoyable.

That is until we re-grouped in 1977 after accepting a challenge to play a game against the 1976 Ashfield De La Salle Open team, who had been very successful in that year. Only a handful of our 1968 team were still playing the game, and I remember being very unfit. But it didn’t matter. We beat them, of course, and even won the fight they started. The infamous 1968 team remained invincible.

Geoff Mooney.